“You really think I’m gonna drink something out of a bio-lab’s fridge?”
Network television has become a sea of procedurals during prime time and CBS is in no way immune, instead leading the charge to have every night boast at least one procedural drama. In 2014 Scorpion joined the ranks and in order to help both make the show stand out as well as court the geeks who are turning in for The Big Bang Theory and the like the show is about a group of crime-solving geniuses. Was it a smart move for CBS?
Scorpion: Season One (hereafter simply referred to as Scorpion) is the story of a misfit group of geniuses each with their own area of expertise as well as issues which make them socially awkward at times if not all the time. They band together to solve problems other people (read: less smart people) cannot. The show is inspired by real-life genius Walter O’Brien, who acts as executive producer for the show as well as being the namesake for the character who leads the team.
So Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel, Game of Thrones) has the fourth-highest ever recorded IQ score and his approach to life is that there’s always a solution which can be found through the application of math and science. His issue? He’s the smartest guy in the room and he knows it, leaving him with a bit of an ego problem. He is joined by Happy (Jadyn Wong, Being Erica), a mechanical prodigy with anger issues. Next up is Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas, American Pie), a behavioral specialist who’s also a gambling addict. Rounding out the main Scorpion team is Sylvester (Ari Stidham, Huge), a mathematical genius they called the human calculator because of his amazing mental calculation speed. Sylvester has crippling social anxiety and some phobias as well. The group is overseen by Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who serves as their Department of Homeland Security liaison. He and Walter have a long history that sometimes gets in the way of their ability to work together. The newest member of the group is Paige (Katharine McPhee, Smash), a waitress who calls the team on their BS and acts as the diplomatic agent of the group, smoothing things over when the other members of the team just aren’t aware or simply don’t care about the social niceties that most of us observe in our interactions with one another.
First of all if you’re going to enjoy Scorpion you have to forget that Walter O’Brien is supposed to be Irish because the show definitely forgets about it within the pilot episode. A grown-up Walter O’Brien has zero trace of an Irish accent but the flashbacks which occur to young Walter and his family clearly demonstrate an Irish accent. And speaking of family forget what they look like because there will be a family member reappearance looking zero percent like what they do in the pilot episode. So now that we forgotten that let’s move on shall we?
Scorpion was pretty much an immediate hit for CBS who scored the top three most-watched new shows of the 2014-2015 season. Scorpion came in third behind NCIS: New Orleans and Madam Secretary and it earned an early January 2015 renewal for a second season. I do appreciate the different take Scorpion has on the typical procedural drama. I like that we are relying on math and science, I enjoy the thinking aspect of the show and the fact there’s the potential for learning with every episode. Scorpion fills the Numb3rs-shaped hole in my viewing schedule quite nicely. I also enjoy the learning curve the characters display over the course of this first season. The cast plays well off one another and where they are abrasive in the beginning we can see mellowing and actual character growth displayed as the episodes roll out.
They bring Paige on because her son Ralph (Riley B. Smith, The Back-Up Plan), is himself a genius and the team clearly see themselves in him. The audio blurb opening each episode states that Paige interprets the world for the geniuses while they interpret Ralph for her but really as the season progresses what you see is that Paige’s presence forces the other members of the team to interact with one another more which opens up those relationships. That’s not to say that she’s not a member of the team but her influence is not necessarily saving the day like it is with the other members of the group. Paige’s tenuous relationship with the group is made even more so during this season with the arrival of Drew (Brendan Hines, Deep in the Valley), Ralph’s father. An absent dad for almost all of Ralph’s life and a cheater to boot he’s a baseball player who chose traveling with the team over staying in one place and helping Paige raise Ralph. It’s clear from the get-go that they’re setting this up as a “will-they-won’t-they” situation between Walter and Paige and Drew’s arrival only underscores that plot line even more. It’s a bit clunky in its execution which may be deliberate considering we’re dealing with people who are supposed to be unaware if not completely uncaring of how “normal” people interact with one another. I wish that particular element wasn’t present merely because I can see that on just about every other show airing right now on television.
Overall I give Scorpion: Season One a recommendation. The things I have issues with are storyline specific or just things which annoy me stemming from my own biases. I’ll only touch on three. Number one is the whole Drew thing. I mentioned it feels a bit clunky well I also am annoyed by the ease with which he comes back into Paige’s life. He’s a cheater and deadbeat dad, really, and yet Paige has very little residual anger and wanting-to-beat-his-face-in-ness like I do. The main conflict which arises from Drew’s reappearance is that he wants a different life for Ralph away from Team Scorpion and Paige is swayed it may be worth a chance for them to try and play happy family again. Yet all the re-bonding which occurs between Paige and Drew which leads to this decision happens off screen. Or it never happens and she’s just been waiting for someone to tell her what to do, which is not in keeping with her character. Next there are no legal ramifications to just about anything in the show. Put aside Paige suing for back child support (which doesn’t happen)–how about all the destruction of property Team Scorpion causes? Where are the people demanding restitution for the loss of their livelihoods? Which leads me to my third qualm and that is the necessity for dumbing things down. I get that I’m not a genius and that I need to have things explained to me but if I want to root for Team Scorpion to save the world why do I have to simultaneously forget they supposedly don’t fit into this world? Part of the show’s raison d’etre is helping this team become a family who functions (albeit uniquely) in society so shouldn’t I see the negative side of that adjustment period? Every other show out there has the heroes save the day without significant loss, Scorpion is the one that could get away with a “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” scenario. In real life there are times when nothing can be done and even geniuses can’t save everybody all the time, they can’t control everything.
However what wins me over and allows me to call myself a fan more than anything else is the potential Scorpion has. They can do anything so they aren’t limited by what can hamper the scope of other procedurals like jurisdiction (usually), type of situation, and scale of the problem or location, to name but a few things. This means episodes can be huge and travel the world with the team helping people in unique ways or the show can have bottle episodes with simple issues which affect the team differently. That ability to be anywhere and do anything reminds me of another beloved show The Pretender and I am excited by the prospect of seeing how the show grows.
Here’s a brief rundown of episodes for you:
“Pilot” – Airplane disaster awaits the inaugural mission of team Scorpion.
“Single Point of Failure” – The governor’s daughter falls ill and it’s up to the team to find the biohacker responsible.
“A Cyclone” – A bomb goes off and reveals more than a simple act of violence.
“Shorthanded” – What happens in Vegas affects everyone when Walter is accused of robbing a casino.
“Plutonium is Forever” – A nuclear reactor is in meltdown and Scorpion is on the case.
“True Colors” – The government sends in someone to assess the team’s ability to continue as assets.
“Father’s Day” – It’s time for a jailbreak.
“Risky Business” – You think auto-tuning is terrible? What if hit songs weren’t written, but computed?
“Rogue Element” – Cabe’s past is in the present case.
“Talismans” – A downed aircraft leaves the team behind enemy lines.
“Revenge” – Sylvester is injured during a robbery investigation and the rest of the team is out for blood.
“Dominoes” – A day at the beach turns deadly.
“Kill Screen” – A video game is being used to transmit government secrets.
“Charades” – When romance enters the game the team is more awkward than usual.
“Forget Me Nots” – Nuclear holocaust is imminent unless a Secret Service Agent’s (David James Elliot, J.A.G.) memory is retrieved.
“Love Boat” – A cruise ship is hijacked and the team must recover some smuggled goods hidden onboard.
“Going South” – It’s off to Mexico and a tangle with a drug cartel.
“Once Bitten, Twice Die” – Peace talks threaten to erupt unless Scorpion can identify a would-be assassin.
“Young Hearts Spark Fire” – Hikers lost in the woods are the original operation but then Scorpion’s helicopter crashes and the ensuing wildfire turns it into a survival mission for everyone.
“Crossroads” – The U.S. Marshals need help escorting a key witness against a major drug cartel.
“Cliffhanger” – A deadly gas is released inside a government lab and trying to rescue those trapped inside is more difficult than originally thought.
“Postcards from the Edge” – Walter crashes a car and literally hangs from a cliff in the season-ender.
The video is a 1080p High Definition 1.78:1 transfer and is in keeping with today’s high definition broadcast shows. There’s only an occasional shot where a green screen may not match up or a special effect may not play as completely real but for a network show I can’t complain and neither will you, most likely. What you may notice issues with is the other half of our technical specifications. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track can be a bit problematic at times with obvious ADR and a hollowness to the track which sometimes tricks the ear into thinking things are less audible than they probably are. I found myself turning up the volume every now and again. I’m not sure that anyone else is going to care about it but it’s my job to point these little things out.
The special features include a digital copy of all the episodes, deleted scenes, and commentary on select episodes, featurettes and a gag reel.
Sometimes the science pushes the boundaries of the believable. Don’t watch this show thinking you’re going to applaud the on point nature of the equations. While they may pass muster it’s sometimes hard to swallow that the team’s calculations play out without severe consequences. For all that the team may purport the idea of the greater good we never see an instance where there are “acceptable losses” or anything which truly challenges the show’s central thesis: that these geniuses are essentially uncaring robots who must be taught how to act human. If that were true a callous disregard for life might be expected. The only incidents of this happening occur off screen before the show as part of past interactions between Cabe and Walter.
Fans of Numb3rs may find their loss of the Eppes brothers somewhat tempered by Scorpion. It’s a smart show with a likeable cast and is just different enough to lift it above the tide of other crime procedurals out there. It’s got more potential for growth than just about any other currently-airing network show.