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The Irrational Review: Jesse L. Martin Can't Save a Lackluster NBC Procedural

Martin is predictably solid, but the crime drama is dragged down by an inconsistent supporting cast and boring cases

Kyle Fowle
Jesse L. Martin, The Irrational

Jesse L. Martin, The Irrational

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

There's a chance that NBC's newest procedural ends up being a success based on circumstance alone. In the wake of the months-long writers strike (which reached a tentative deal on Sunday) and the ongoing actors strike, the fall TV slate is looking slim. The Irrational is one of the few network shows this fall that isn't a reality series, and because it finished filming its 10-episode first season before the strikes, it debuts with a full slate of episodes behind it. Considering that the series has a familiar face attached to it in Law & Order alum Jesse L. Martin, starved viewers might flock to the one new show that's actually available on their screens. But is it worth the time, even in this environment?

Like so many procedurals before it, The Irrational is a crime show where the lead character isn't a cop but rather a specialist who's brought in to help crack difficult, absurd cases. In this case, Jesse L. Martin plays Alec Mercer, a professor of behavioral psychology whom the police use to get into the heads of the most complex criminals. In the usual procedural fashion, the police tend to have their suspect nailed down until Alec steps in and questions everything, leading to a late-episode twist where the true culprit is revealed. Through the first three episodes, the twists don't necessarily feel predictable, but they won't leave any lasting impression.


The Irrational


  • Good to see Jesse L. Martin in a procedural again


  • Flat supporting cast
  • Cases are not very compelling

There's nothing too novel about The Irrational's approach to the procedural. Everything about it is familiar and lacking in any real creative punch. It should come as no surprise that, at the very least, Jesse L. Martin brings gravitas to the lead role. The TV vet is doing his damnedest to elevate what's otherwise very thin, silly material here. In fact, the weekly cases are the weakest parts of the three episodes shared with critics. The cases are certainly outrageous — you have a makeup influencer supposedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend who's prone to blackouts, a deadly plane crash, and a poisoning all in the first three episodes — but that doesn't make them compelling. 

One of the main reasons a procedural like Law & Order stands out in terms of quality is the supporting cast and the roster of weekly guest stars. The Irrational is severely lacking in that department, as almost everything outside of Alec's characterization feels thin. Alec often finds himself working with lead detective Marisa (Maahra Hill), who also happens to be his ex-wife, but there's no real depth to their complicated relationship. There's no feeling here; it's all just surface-level character work that fails to make the audience truly care about these characters.

If there's a highlight here, it's that The Irrational does a good job of slow-playing its central mystery. Threaded through the weekly cases is Alec's own trauma. He was the lone survivor of a bombing when he was younger, leaving him with burns on 60% of his body and visible scarring on his face. The first three episodes divulge just enough information to keep the viewer guessing and keep audiences interested in Alec's arc, and Martin is doing good enough work to lend the storyline some real emotion. Sadly, this is the only real redeeming quality of an otherwise lackluster, familiar procedural from NBC. 

Premieres: Monday, Sept. 25 at 10/9c on NBC
Who's in it: Jesse L. Martin, Maahra Hill, Travina Springer, Molly Kunz
Who's behind it: Created by Arika Mittman (La Brea, Timeless), based on a book by Dan Ariely 
For fans of: Castle, The Mentalist
How many episodes we watched: 3