The general consensus surrounding the fall 2014 television season is that it’s utterly mediocre. There are abysmal shows like The Mysteries of Laura and irritating-but-somewhat-promising shows like Selfie, but most new programs just seem to be aggressively mediocre — like Forever, which is thoroughly watchable despite its blandness. The majority of premieres that I’ve previewed are frustratingly average, as if they’re so content to merely exist on TV that they feel no need to try and improve it. CBS’ “fun-cedural” Scorpion is just another example of this unfortunate trend.
Scorpion is a combination of Numb3rs and The Big Bang Theory and CSI and everything else you can think of. It’s a procedural (but fun, as CBS keeps claiming, hence the obnoxious portmanteau) that centers not on murder detectives but on a group of super-smart misfits working for Homeland Security. There is an eccentric genius Walter (played by Elyes Gabel and inspired by the real-life computer expert Walter O’Brien), an expert behaviorist, mechanical prodigy, and statistics guru — basically the genius version of a “rockstar intern.” These aren’t normal nerds, they’re cool nerds. Eddie Kaye Thomas’ Toby wears a denim jacket and a fedora, so you know that despite his skills, he’s still a guy who can bro down with the best of them.
The pilot quickly falls into the same trap as most “nerdy” shows, including the obvious sitcom comparison, CBS’ surprisingly popular The Big Bang Theory. Scorpion is unable to introduce the characters and their brains in a way that isn’t wholly off-putting. They have that aura of being too smart for everyone around them, casually insulting those who aren’t on their level — in this case the diner waitress Paige (Katherine McPhee) — and looking at everyone with an air of condescension. But in this world, that’s OK; these are geniuses, after all, so everything is always chalked up to the fact that they are socially awkward.
In fact, the group is so awkward that they enlist Paige to help them interact with human beings outside of their social circle (see: IQ level). She is their translator from nerd-speak to basic human interactions and, in return, Walter helps out her “challenged” son — who, as it happens, is also a secret genius, as evidenced when he plays chess with various diner condiments. Paige’s lazy and baffling role doesn’t bode well for the show or the story’s longevity, but this is a procedural, which means the characters will likely come second to the case-of-the-week thrills.
There are a few CBS-like thrills (namely, car chases) in the pilot, but I suspect that’s mostly to do with the episode’s director, Justin Lin, and I assume following episodes will probably be toned down significantly. All of the characters are underwritten, and the central plot — some confusing case about trying to contact two planes before they crash — is not as suspenseful as you’d hope. So, again, Scorpion is nothing more than average, yet will do well because of CBS’ knack for procedurals. It’s just a shame that a show about smarts is suffocated by so much dumb, unoriginal nonsense.