Makes total sense: Jesse L. Martin in new NBC series ‘The Irrational’

Makes total sense: Jesse L. Martin in new NBC series ‘The Irrational’

“The Irrational” arrives on NBC with an asterisk as one of the few new shows premiering this fall due to the ongoing labor strife in Hollywood.

That being said, the psychological procedural, premiering Sept. 25 (10 p.m.) and starring an engaging Jesse L. Martin, has a solid premise that should suit it well if it can sustain its contextual arc.

I like the fact that “The Irrational” gives us a protagonist with an out-of-the-box specialty. Martin (“The Flash”) plays Alec Mercer, a renowned behavioral psychologist/college professor who moonlights for the FBI. The bureau calls him in tough cases, or, as he says, “brings me in when they’re screwed.”

Alec’s specialty is something called “paradoxical persuasion,” illustrated in the series premiere during a hostage negotiation when he persuades a gunman holding a woman and her baby at gunpoint to consider his options.

What’s going to happen if he does escape in the helicopter promised by Alec? He’d probably have to kill the woman and her baby and then the helicopter pilot, right? (Alec wins that battle, of course.)

Jesse L. Martin and Maarha Hill as Alec and his estranged wife, Marisa. They're at a crime scene looking off-camera. Jesse is wearing a black winter cap and a tan overcoat and Maarha has her arms crossed and is smiling very slightly.Jesse L. Martin as Alec and Maarha Hill as Marisa, from whom he’s separated. She’s an FBI agent.Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Alec’s specialty is further emphasized by the opener’s main storyline involving the young, ex-Marine son of a powerful senator who admits to killing a young influencer in an alcoholic haze but can’t seem to remember any of the specifics (including the gun he used). You can guess how that one turns out.

Alec has the requisite messy personal life. He’s separated from his wife Marisa (Maarhra Hill), an FBI agent who relies on his judgment and expertise, and he lives with his younger sister, Kylie (Travina Springer), who enjoys his company.

He’s also dealing with a trauma from his past which he can’t quite shake.

Years earlier, he was the victim of a church-bombing that killed a friend and left Alec burned over 60 percent of his body (most notably on his face).

It’s what motivated his early research (the treatment he received in the hospital) and he says he thinks about it every day — but, really, he’s blotted out a big part of what happened that night (he’s not following his own advice).

It resurfaces in a big way when the alleged bomber, arrested on circumstantial evidence, comes up for parole.

Jesse L. Martin and Travina Springer as Alec and Kylie. They're looking off-camera, probably at a computer screen, and Alec is pointing at it with his right arm.Alec (Jesse L. Martin) and his younger sister, Kylie (Travina Springer). He’s been living with her since breaking up with his wife.Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Molly Kunz and Arash DeMaxi play Alec's graduate assistants, Phoebe and Rizwan.Molly Kunz and Arash DeMaxi play Alec’s graduate assistants, Phoebe and Rizwan.Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

(The bomber storyline continues in Episode 2, when Alec’s mettle is tested when he uncovers who poisoned a crusading reporter with polonium).

The writing here is solid and, at times, witty — “If you kill me, I stop talking,” Alec says to a guy holding him at gunpoint and imploring him to shut up — and he explains his psychological method in simple terms: “Memory is fallible”; he “divorces emotion from reason”; “Memory is the greatest con man of human nature. It lies to us; “Anyone can confess to anything given the circumstances.”

Martin, a series veteran, knows his way around a set and around the ebb and flow of an hourlong procedural (he spent several seasons in the “Law & Order” universe as Det. Ed Green) and he’s fun to watch as Alec finds different paths into the psyches of the confessors and the actual guilty parties (you know it’s coming, of course, but still).

He’s surrounded by a good, capable cast, though Alec’s two graduate students, Phoebe (Molly Kunz) and Rizwan (Arash DeMaxi), don’t have a whole lot to do early on. I’m guessing that will change as the series progresses.

All in all, it’s a nice start for a series that should benefit from an audience looking for something new in a primetime landscape dotted with reality and reruns.