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The Pros and Cons of SCORPION

TV Review Scorpion by Mily Dunbar

CBS premiered the pilot episode of their newest procedural, Scorpion, at Comic-Con on Thursday, and it might be worth checking out. I haven’t quite decided yet. Let’s go through the pros and cons together.

The show follows the usual structure of a CBS procedural — a group of specialized people are working against the clock to solve a problem that they are uniquely qualified to solve. Many of them have tragic backstories. Okay, so on CSI there is no clock, but Without a Trace, Person of Interest, and that serial killer one all have/had some element of working quickly to save someone. CON

Scorpion’s twist on the concept — that this team is made up of  super geniuses who basically don’t have any social skills — has been done a few times before. CON

However, the show’s other conceit — that this is based on the true life of Walter O’Brien, the man with the fourth highest IQ ever measured — is maybe interesting. PRO

This is the show’s central concept: Walter O’Brien is a super genius who was taken/used by the US Government as a child and is now trying to run a (failing) shop of super genius helper dudes when a crisis leads his G-Man former handler to seek his help. Also, there is a single mother waitress who joins the team. NEUTRAL

The real life O’Brien seems to think this show will function as some sort of outreach to the “mentally enabled,” which is weird. PRO

He also says things like, “If I had emotions, I would have anxiety,” and when someone asked if Walter will have a super-genius nemesis on the show, he said, “Real life answer: Not anymore.” PRO

Elyes Gabel plays Walter O’Brien on the show and is perfectly adequate, even somewhat charming in a difficult role. How do you forge an emotional connection with the audience when you're playing someone with no emotions? PRO

Walter’s G-man handler is played by Robert Patrick. PRO

They have a shared tragic backstory. CON

In the pilot Patrick crashes a car like he’s a lineman blocking for a quarterback. PRO

Katharine McPhee is the female lead. CON

As Paige the waitress/genius wrangler, McPhee is supposed to help the geniuses understand normal emotional humans. But as we’ve seen from her work on Smash, the only emotions she is capable of are “whiny,” “entitled,” and “mopey.” CON

McPhee is supposed to be all no-nonsense/common sense solution girl, but she has no idea that her son is a genius and thinks he is “challenged” but has apparently never had him tested/receive any services, even though he is presumably in a public school where teachers definitely would have pushed for an evaluation, which likely would have included an IQ test. CON

Gabel does a Sherlock-style cold read of McPhee, and she tells him he’s wrong and basically calls him a dick. PRO

At one point when Gabel and Patrick are discussing a plan that would allow two passenger jets to crash but save many many many more people, and McPhee says, “Normal people save everyone!” Which, no, they don’t. Normal people don’t save shit, McPhee. CON

Aside from McPhee’s dialogue, which is often terrible, the writing is clever and fun. PRO

Eddie Kaye Thomas is a super-genius psychologist (Psychiatrist?) who can read people so well he’s practically a psychic, and yet he chooses to wear a porkpie hat. CON

He is, however, one of the more interesting supporting cast members. NEUTRAL

The girl super genius, a mechanical engineer played by Jadyn Wong, is abrasive without being charming or endearing in any way. PRO

Ari Stidham plays the requisite OCD mathematician and seems kind of sweet, although he also seems a bit like the poor man’s Rich Sommers. NEUTRAL

Remember how Numbers would have animated graphics breaking down the complex mathematical concepts for a much-dumber-than-the-characters audience? That was cool, but this show doesn’t do that. NEUTRAL

The pilot was directed by Justin Lin, and it seems like the show will have a cool action element in addition to the thinky genius pacing back and forth. PRO

Lin sort of maybe told McPhee that she was kind of bad at acting. PRO

The producing team includes the recently split but uber-successful Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. PRO

The climax of the pilot was a totally implausible but convincing enough stunt involving a jumbo jet and a Ferrari. PRO

In the title cards the name of the show is rendered as </scorpion> which makes me think that this show will end with a a traumatic brain injury that leaves Walter with merely an above average intellect. PRO

The verdict: If you ignore the cliched premise and Katherine McPhee, it’s almost all pros. We'll give it a three episode tryout before we set a season record.

Scorpion premieres Monday, September 22 on CBS.

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