Is NBC’s The Irrational Based on Real Crimes? Is Alec Mercer a Real Behavioral Psychologist?

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Created by Arika Mittman, ‘The Irrational’ is a police procedural drama series that revolves around Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin), a world-renowned professor of behavioral psychology. Alec uses his unique insight into human nature to help the FBI in an array of high-stakes cases involving governments, corporations, and law enforcement. However, Alec is tormented by an incident in his past. Given the show’s focus on intriguing criminal cases, viewers must be curious to learn about the inspiration behind ‘The Irrational’ and its main character.

The Inspiration Behind The Irrational

No, ‘The Irrational’ is not based on true crimes. The series is loosely based on Dan Ariely’s 2008 book ‘Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.’ It was developed for television by Arika Lisanne Mittman. She gained recognition for her work on the thriller series ‘Dexter’ and her credits include popular shows such as ‘Tyrant,’ ‘La Brea,’ and ‘Timeless.’ Mittman created the series based on Ariely’s book and serves as the head writer. The non-fiction book tackled the subject of Behavioral Economics and became a New York Times bestseller. However, the book does not have any characters or sterilized narrative that is adapted into the television series.

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Instead, the series takes several ideas about behavioral science that test aspects of rational choice theory based on Ariely’s research and experiments. Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American professor and author known for his extensive work in Behavioral Economics and Decision-Making theories. The main character of the television series, Alec Mercer, uses theories and ideas present in the original book to solve criminal cases, including one linked to his past. As a result, it is safe to say that the television series does not draw direct inspiration from real-life crimes.

The series’ opening and closing credits feature a disclaimer that reiterates its narrative is not inspired by real events. However, the series generalizes several crimes and the methods behind them to apply the ideas of human behavioral science from Ariely’s book to create a uniquely fresh and intriguing narrative. As a result, viewers might find some semblance of reality between the crimes, criminals, and their motivations in the series. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that ‘The Irrational’ tells a primarily fictional story that obtains its realism from diving into the intricacies of human behavior.

Alec Mercer Is Not a Real Behavioral Psychologist

Alec Mercer is the protagonist of ‘The Irrational,’ and actor Jesse L. Martin plays the role. Martin rose to prominence with his role as Tom Collins on the Broadway musical ‘Rent’ by Jonathan Larson. He is also renowned for essaying the role of Detective Edward “Ed” Green in the crime-drama series ‘Law & Order’ and its several spin-offs. Viewers might also recognize Martin as Captain Joe West from the DC Comics-based superhero drama series ‘The Flash.’ In ‘The Irrational,’ Martin’s Alec Mercer is a behavioral psychologist and professor who works at Wylton University in Washington, DC.

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Alec Mercer does not seem to be based on a real psychologist, primarily because Wylton University is fictional. Furthermore, there is no evidence of a real psychologist with the same name working with the FBI. Similarly, Alec’s methods in the series are experimental, and using them in real-life criminal cases could result in catastrophe. Moreover, Alec appears to be a carefully constructed character with several layers. He is going through a divorce while also dealing with the lasting effects of a traumatic incident from nearly twenty years ago. He is also a mentor and a professor and assists the FBI in investigating several criminal cases. Therefore, Alec Mercer is almost certainly a fictional character.

However, since the character draws from the theories and ideas from the book written by Dan Ariely, the latter can be considered as the closest real-world counterpart to the fictional character. Like Alec, Ariely also studied psychology and behavioral economics and worked as a professor. Ultimately, Alec Mercer is not based on a real person. He is a fictional character created to serve as the show’s protagonist, with his interest in human behavior providing the show’s police procedural aspect a fresh twist. At the same time, Alec’s tragic backstory and present circumstances allow the viewers to relate to the character.

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