This Fall, CBS is debuting its new action drama series Scorpion (or, as the title card has it, ). The show will air in Singapore on RTL CBS Entertainment and I attended a screening of the pilot tonight.
Scorpion is created by Nick Santora, whose TV credits include The Sopranos, The Guardian, Law & Order, Prison Break and Lie To Me. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenwriters behind Star Trek (2009) who are showrunners on Sleepy Hollow, are executive producing. Also executive producing is Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame; he directed the pilot. Touted as being based on a true story, Scorpion is inspired by the life of self-proclaimed Irish genius Walter O’Brien. O’Brien hacked into the NASA computer system at age 13 and made an extradition deal with the Americans. This is dramatised in the opening scene of the pilot, which also features ineffective, creepy-looking de-aging makeup on Robert Patrick. Anyway, O’Brien went on to establish the Scorpion Computer Services company, using his expertise to solve cybercrimes.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the premise. It’s a team of high-functioning misfit super-geniuses whom the government calls on for help because nobody else is smart enough. It’s been described as The Big Bang Theory meets CSI. A tad late on the “nerds are cool” bandwagon there. O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) states in the opening voiceover that Einstein had an IQ of 165 and he has an IQ of 197. Most of us don’t run into “eccentric geniuses” on a daily basis, but they’re all over TV. Everything from Numb3rs to Sherlock has amply proven that audiences love a protagonist who’s that many steps ahead of everybody else. And then there’s the team: Trilby-wearing behaviourist Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), mathematician and programmer Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) and mechanical whiz Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong). They answer to stern Federal agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick), with whom O’Brien has a sour history. These are character types we’ve seen plenty of times before and character traits like Sylvester’s OCD are annoying rather than amusing. Of course, this being just the pilot, there’s probably room for meaningful character development and perhaps the bunch will grow beyond the caricatures they’re presented as in the pilot.
Something I didn’t expect was how the show touches on the difficulties of raising a high-functioning kid. There’s a subplot involving diner waitress Paige Dineen (Katherine McPhee), a single mother who struggles with understanding and nurturing her extraordinarily gifted son. By the end of the episode, she joins the Scorpion crew as the “one normal member”, the de-facto heart of the team, if you will. There are moments in the pilot that are kinda sappy, but the connection that Walter shares with Paige’s son adds some warmth to the fast-paced techno-babble-driven proceedings. Of course, a romance between Walter and Paige is teased. It’s a fun cast and they seem to have decent chemistry together, but I need to see more to make a proper judgement. What is noteworthy is that Elyes Gabel’s portrayal of Walter O’Brien does not come off as arrogant and obnoxious, as “insufferable genius” types in TV shows are wont to, and that is to his credit. I’m calling Eddie Kaye Thomas’ Toby as the fan-favourite breakout character.
In the pilot, the Scorpion Computer Services team is called upon to solve an emergency bug in the software at the LAX airport control tower, with the lives of hundreds of airline crew and passengers at stake. The series creators have promised a more realistic portrayal of hacking and computer systems than audiences are used to. I’m no expert, so I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of it, but at least there aren’t the floating, spinning graphics of Hackers and Swordfish. Any realism and grounding the show has flies out the window by the time the pilot’s denouement rolls around, but it flies out the window in a most entertaining fashion. Justin Lin is at the helm, so there are really fast cars involved. It’s one of the most gleefully ridiculous, over the top action climaxes I’ve seen in a TV show and it does rival something that might appear in Lin’s Fast and Furious movies. I’m not going to give too much away but the pilot is definitely worth a watch for that rather ambitious sequence. If the show continues to deliver set pieces akin to the one in the pilot, it’ll be quite the hoot.
Scorpion premieres on Tuesday 23rd September on RTL CBS Entertainment, Mio TV Ch. 318/StarHub TV Ch. 509