Now streaming–Jesse L. Martin stars in new series The Irrational

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Odd title aside, NBC/Peacock’s new crime drama The Irrational is sure to be fun for Jesse L. Martin fans.  Continuing his career-long string of cool cop roles, from Law & Order to The Flash, this time Martin plays behavioral psychologist Alec Mercer, tapped by the FBI to interpret the actions of murder suspects.  Evidently inspired by the nonfiction book Predictably Irrational (available at Amazon here) by real-life psychology professor Dan Ariely, the series uses a killer-of-the-week format to debunk popular assumptions about how humans make decisions.  How that evolved into a crime drama is a mystery yet unexplained, but it feels a lot like an American Professor T (reviewed here and returning for a second season this fall).  Indeed, there’s nothing new here—but the appeal is in the cast, and the opportunity to see Martin cop it up week after week.

Two episodes in, we are in the weary Castle-style format of Eccentric Male Expert paired with Female Law Enforcement Agent and their will-they-or-won’t-they (of course they will) sexual tension.  In this case, the expert is Martin’s Dr. Mercer, and the twist is that the FBI agent is his ex-wife Marissa (Maahra Hill).  Martin and Hill have obvious chemistry (is there anyone Martin doesn’t have chemistry with?), whether butting heads over the case or reminiscing over happier days.  It’s not yet revealed what caused their split, but they are still dealing with the ramifications of their very first case together: a church bombing in which Mercer was critically injured and still cannot recall with any detail.

The pilot episode features a decorated veteran who has apparently murdered his ex-girlfriend during an alcoholic blackout.  The second episode is a play on D.O.A, and guest stars Bosch’s Amy Aquino as an investigative reporter who asks Mercer to investigate her own murder.  Both crimes are solvable in the first sentence by experienced TV viewers (that’s everyone, right?), but we get the fun of watching Martin rattle everyone’s cages with his unnerving advice—helping them make better decisions about the crimes they’re committing. “Do you want the helicopter to land on the roof or the lawn? And you know you’ll have to kill the pilot, too, right?”

Mercer’s shtick is fun and novel, and Martin pulls it off with a cool factor only he could summon.  His charisma carries the show, with costars Hill and Travina Springer (Ms. Marvel), who plays his sister and roommate, bolstering the mix.  But the writing, plots, and stock characters are rehashed and utterly lacking in surprises. The ongoing series mystery of the church bombing shows more promise.  If the writers can reach to Martin’s level, The Irrational will have a lot to offer.

The Irrational airs Tuesdays on NBC and Peacock.

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