The new CBS-TV crime-drama series Scorpion is a clear attempt to refresh the cop show genre. Unfortunately, that laudable intention conflicts with the showmakers’ choice to play it safe by exaggerating aspects of the genre that conflict with the show’s premise.
The premise is somewhat promising: a team of genius works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in solving complex problems involving high-tech threats. You may see a problem already: the “team of brilliant eccentrics fighting crime” is a staple of crime fiction since at least the inception of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and can be seen in previous shows such as Magnum, P.I. in the 1980s and 77 Sunset Strip way back in the 1950s (although the detectives in those series were quite normal compared to contemporary TV cop-sleuths), Thus Scorpion does not defy or discard that convention but instead exaggerates it by making the members of the team more brilliant and more eccentric than usual.
In addition to the team’s above-standard allotment of the TV-crime-drama cliche of emotional and behavioral problems, Scorpion also bows to convention by including the obligatory attractive female, a demanding and occasionally enigmatic supervisor (Robert Patrick) who ultimately takes the team’s side against his own even-more-demanding and in fact openly hostile boss, impending deadlines, plus tragic back stories for the various characters.
On the plus side, a somewhat new element is one non-genius character’s son, who is nine years old and a genius himself. The Scorpion team looks after him, especially protagonist Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), in order to provide a weekly quota of “aw!” moments. All right, that’s not so innovative after all.
Worst of all, however, is the producers’ decision to have each episode hinge on some incredibly absurd action set-piece, such as a heist-style break-in to a pharmacy company’s secure records room (episode 2), a truly bizarre bomb-disarming scene (episode 3), and most absurdly, a scene in which a character in a Ferrari moving at 200 mph under a jet airliner flying at the exact same speed plugs a laptop computer into a data cord hanging down from the jet (episode 1). I am still trying to recover from the absurdity of that one.
This attempt to cross CBS’s most popular comedy, The Big Bang Theory, with its most popular series genre, the police procedural, must have seemed like a stroke of genius to the executives who approved it for the fall schedule. Unfortunately, to the viewer the experience is more like a stroke than a stroke of genius.