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'Perception,' starring Canuck Eric McCormack, opens third season in Paris

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If you're starring in a series called "Perception," you want folks to think it is a success.

So what better way to kick off season 3 than with a trip to Paris?

That's exactly what happens as "Perception" returns Tuesday on Bravo and TNT in the U.S.

The series is about a Chicago college neuroscience professor named Dr. Daniel Pierce (Toronto-born Eric McCormack) recruited by a former student and FBI agent (Rachel Leigh Cook) to help solve complex cases. The twist is that McCormack's Dr. Pierce suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, a condition which leads to hallucinations that somehow give Pierce insights into how to solve certain crimes. Arjay Smith (Pierce's teaching assistant, Max Lewicki), Kelly Rowan (Pierce's imaginary best friend and adviser) and LeVar Burton (the dean at Pierce's college) also star.

McCormack is happy "Perception" is returning for a third season on the same date in Canada as it does in the U.S. In the past, Bravo would pick up the series a few months after it returned stateside. "It's always been frustrating to have my Canadian friends say, 'So when is it on?' I'm like, 'I don't know — in two months or something for you.'"

At the end of the second season, Dr. Pierce was seen storming out of his university and heading off to Paris, "which of course, for someone living with paranoid schizophrenia is a bit of a bold move."

When series co-creator Kenneth Biller suggested season 3 should actually begin in Paris, McCormack's first reaction was, "That's a lot of green screen." Instead of trying to double Paris through background process shots and studio interiors, a few of the stars and a skeleton crew flew to France to shoot the season premiere. "I'm so excited about it," says McCormack. "It really at times feels like 'The Bourne Identity.'"

He'll miss the Parisian baguette breaks. Instead of the usual "craft services" food stations usually set up on North American shoots, McCormack and other cast members simply ducked into "any one of a million little baguette shops."

His character has always been "a bit of a fish out of water," says the 51-year-old Emmy winner, but never so out of water as in Paris. It's a city where, "intellectually and academically, he should feel completely at home in, but it just starts to prey on all of his paranoid espionage anti-government feelings."

Viewers will see the familiar landmarks of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame, and will glimpse Dr. Pierce teaching at the Sorbonne. Naturally, Pierce is drawn into an FBI case while in the City of Lights. "Is it a real case? We're not sure," says McCormack.

It is enough to bring special agent Katie Moretti (Cook) over to France, as well as her ex-hubby Donnie Ryan (played by Scott Wolf). They're both there, says McCormack, to "help me solve the case, or possibly put me away."

"Perception" is set in Chicago but, aside from the pilot (shot in Toronto), production is based in Los Angeles. Back in L.A. after the Paris shoot, McCormack had to quickly prep for his first assignment directing the series.

He becomes the latest leading man to get behind the camera on his own show. Jon Hamm and John Slattery have both directed episodes of "Med Men." Bryan Cranston directed several episodes of "Breaking Bad" and has gone on to direct episodes of "Modern Family." In Canada, Gregory Smith ("Rookie Blue"), Enrico Colantoni ("Remedy") and especially Jason Priestley ("Call Me Fitz") have all earned their director's guild cards.

McCormack says it's something he's been leading up to for some time. He was on stand by for a while to direct on "Will & Grace" if James Burrows couldn't make it one week, but the famed sitcom director never missed a show in eight seasons.

McCormack certainly took notes while Burrows worked, and praises his "uncanny ability in understanding the difference between a camera being here and a camera being 8 inches to the right." Burrows (now directing "The Millers") would change camera placements on "Will & Grace," recalls McCormack, without even looking through the lens. Understanding what's in frame and how it tells the story is a directing skill that is as true of comedy as it is of drama, figures the actor.

He also feels actors who direct have a shorthand with their fellow cast members an outside director would not likely possess. "I could just say, 'Rach, this is the moment that this happens — not the previous one,'" he explains.

It helps first, of course, to have the confidence of and a good working relationship with the cast and crew.

McCormack calls Cook, "the nicest girl with a SAG card," adding, "She's from Minnesota and she doesn't have an arrogant bone in her body."


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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