The move from the broadcast networks dominating the fall calendar with new programming has been gradual, but it's nearly complete. Every September, new shows premiere on networks like NBC and ABC that just don’t get the attention they used to even a decade ago. Cable companies like HBO and Showtime were the first to eat into broadcast dominance, and then the streamers really changed everything by eliminating the traditional network calendar. I can still remember when I covered every new show of a season on NBC, FOX, ABC, and CBS. That time is long gone, and people just don’t seem to care like they used to. But hits still happen. Look at “Abbott Elementary” on ABC or “Ghosts” on CBS. Look at the resilience of the Chicago-branded shows on NBC or the steady fan base for “9-1-1” on FOX. And so the networks keep hunting for the next brick of their foundation, a show like “NCIS” that they can just schedule and not sweat for years. One of NBC’s new offerings this season could become that; another is unlikely to be a breakout.
The better of the pair is “The Irrational,” premiering tonight at 10 pm EST. Jesse L. Martin returns to the reliable case-of-the-week format that he did very well on “Law & Order” from 1999 to 2008. Martin has an easygoing intellectualism and is convincing as the smartest guy in the room without coming off as pretentious, a trait that serves him well here. He plays Professor Alec Mercer, an expert in behavioral science who is brought in to help with high-profile cases. For example, the premiere centers on a man who confesses to murder, but Mercer is convinced he is innocent; the second episode details a journalist who has been inexplicably poisoned, possibly in a crowded restaurant; and the third digs into a plane crash that the authorities suspect may have been pilot suicide.
Mercer investigates a new case each week on “The Irrational” that hinges on human behavior, whether it’s false memories or the human habit of being distracted easily enough to miss what’s right in front of us. The writers cleverly give their protagonist sounding boards for his theories about the human condition by aligning him with students Phoebe (Molly Kunz) and Owen (Arash DeMaxi)—he can teach them as he walks the audience through what he’s thinking about a case. They also give Mercer a mystery of his own, trying to unpack repressed memories surrounding a fire that almost killed him, and they top it off with an ex-wife (Maahra Hill), who happens to be the FBI agent who needs his help.
“The Irrational” works because it has a likable cast and reasonably tight plotting, even if every episode so far seems to rush to its conclusion. Kunz and DeMaxi are better-than-average supporting players, and Martin conveys Mercer’s intelligence and compassion, even if the constant exposition dumps get a little exhausting. But that’s just part of the structure here—a charismatic lead that talks his way through a case clue by clue and revelation by revelation. It would be irrational to expect much deviation from that formula.
Speaking of formula, “Found,” premiering on October 3rd at 10 pm EST, leans so far into its clichés that it becomes more of a soap opera than a traditional network procedural. This one is just a misfire on all levels, a show so dense with overheated dialogue and character choices that it verges on parody. The fact that it deals with highly emotional subjects like sex trafficking and children in danger only makes the whole venture feel icky and exploitative.
"Found" is about a woman who is quite literally horrible at her job in the sense that every case in the episodes screened becomes about her more than the victims. And the performances are all pitched to the cheap seats in a show that wears its Very Important subject matter like a badge of honor, as if making a bad drama about kidnapped children is so urgent that it will make the world a better place purely by existing. It's the "Sound of Freedom" of network dramas.
Shanola Hampton plays Gabi Mosely, a woman who herself was once a kidnapping victim held prisoner by a sociopath (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). The trauma of that event has made Mosely a warrior for the thousands of kidnapped people who don’t get the same media attention as a politician’s white daughter—the show basically opens with an angry speech about the disparity in media attention for victims of color, one of many true issues in society that feels used here for cheap thrills. And that sense that “Found” is using real hot-button issues to get attention pervades every episode.
It doesn’t help that most people around Mosely have their own traumas to unpack, including a kidnapped child or severe agoraphobia. But the coup de grace, something revealed in the ads for the show, is that Mosely turned the tables on her kidnapper and locked him up in her basement, using him like Clarice used Hannibal Lecter to help find the bad guys. It’s an insane pitch that maybe could have worked with sharper dialogue and characters who didn’t feel like mouthpieces, but doesn’t click here at all. Gosselaar is fine—as is some of the supporting cast—but Hampton doesn’t work, although saddling her with practically nothing but clichés to spout on the level of “That’s not a threat, it’s a promise” only leaves an actress searching for some actual human being to play and ending up, well, lost.
Three episodes of each were screened for review.