The new series ‘ Scorpion’ from CBS has plenty of unbelievable scenarios bordering on the insane but there’s still some heart and humor worth watching in this show….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer.
In the midst of the madness at San Diego Comic Con on Thursday, CBS debuted their new series titled ‘Scorpion’ based loosely on real life genius Walter O’Brien, played in the show by British actor Elyes Gabel. O’Brien is touted as being one of the four smartest people in the world with an IQ of 197, and he uses that intellect as part of a think tank that is often used by government officials and military operations and he even says he’s personally helped stop two wars (although his actions with the U.S. government are largely classified so that information is not public).
The debut episode opens with Walter being arrested as a young child after hacking into the NASA database, but instead of going to prison, he meets a Federal officer named Agent Cabe Gallo, who recruits him to work for the government instead of against it. Flash forward more than 30 years and O’Brien is no longer a government agent, but instead a low level tech wizard hired out to fix wireless routing systems in restaurants while the team he’s assembled is currently stealing electricity to power their warehouse because there’s no money left to pay the bills.
Enter Agent Gallo, who has an emergency on his hands and it’s one that only Walter can help to solve. Walter wants nothing to do with the government after the bad taste that was left in his mouth the last time dealing with them, but his team’s desperate need of capitol forces him to change his mind while also cutting a deal that everyone involved will stand to make $50,000 cash and they can walk when the job is done. Gallo agrees and off we go into Scorpion.
The first episode had a huge number of beats that not only touched on the improbable, but the completely illogical. The ridiculous manner by which this team is brought under the wing of the government is one thing, but the turn of events that takes them from a burned out warehouse to driving Ferraris while chasing airplanes borders on the ludicrous. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fun, action beats which carry the show from one misadventure to the next.
The pitfalls of the series appear to fall in two major categories. First off, the portrayal of these super nerds is not only stereotypical but it’s almost like the creators found a ‘how to be nerdy’ handbook and just handed it out to the actors involved. Walter is of course the smartest one of the bunch, but he’s also quietly a ladies man who breaks up with one girl via a letter while quietly flirting with the waitress who was serving them drinks at the time in a restaurant. That waitress is the other problem.
Katherine McPhee might be the next Meryl Streep for all I know, but her portrayal as Paige the waitress, who just happens to have a ‘challenged’ son who is actually another boy genius, who is then thrown into the orbit of Walter and his team and then to take it one step further into the completely unbelievable, she’s invited to join their team. It reminded me of a scene from the film ‘Last Action Hero’ (it’s a bad movie, I know but there are some funny parts and Tywin Lannister is in it) where the boy who gets tossed into the movie world of his favorite hero Jack Slater before being teamed up with him as his partner despite the fact that he has no formal training and he’s like 13-years old. In the movie, he even acknowledges that as a way to call out that he’s actually living in a movie and not real life. Needless to say no one stood up and called ‘bullshit’ on this waitress not only having a genius son who only seems to relate to Walter and his friends, but then she’s asked to join their team of super nerds? Why not ask her to work at the Cheesecake Factory, call her Penny and just be done with it already?
The easiest way to describe ‘Scorpion’ is Chuck meets Die Hard 2 — and as awesome as that sounds, you really have to suspend disbelief to get to a point of appreciating the show. If the first episode is any indication, this is quickly going from ‘based on a true story’ to ‘the names of these people are the same as their counterparts in real life but that’s about it’.
The series is set up to act as a procedural with each episode presenting the Scorpion team with a problem and they will work within their group to solve it all while bugging the hell out of rough and grumble Robert Patrick, who plays their handler. Sound familiar at all? Call Zachary Levi and ask why he wasn’t up for the part of Walter O’Brien.
Now as off the wall as the plot was and even the action scenes, which bordered on sheer lunacy, there were still some really good moments to the show. Elyes Gabel is an underrated actor who deserved a shot to headline a series, and hopefully win, lose or draw on this one, he’ll get plenty more opportunities in the future. Another fun inclusion is former ‘American Pie’ star Eddie Cahill, who got lost in the 90’s somewhere and just turned up now, but he’s got the comic relief role here playing Toby, the wisecracking, thieving problem solver of the group. They are joined by Happy Quinn (played by Jadyn Wong) who is the mechanical engineering genius and Ari Stidham, who plays Sylvester Dodd, a savant with numbers who also has an OCD phobia where everything has to be in order before he can start to put any math equation together.
This is a series that won’t be for everybody, which means that being on CBS it may not make the cut past the first six or seven episodes honestly. ‘Scorpion’ seems more like a show that will appeal to a very core, cult audience and not a large number of people in the way that say ‘Big Bang Theory’ gets over with everyone. That said, if Sharknado can get a sequel while everyone watching it knows just how crazy and stupid it is and just appreciate it for the ridiculousness of it all, then ‘Scorpion’ could be a winner.
While I certainly can take umbrage with a great many points in the debut episode, there’s an underlying interest that will make me tune in again for at least a few episodes when the show kicks off on CBS this fall. The creators behind the show also have an ulterior motive for making the series as well and that’s one everyone can support. As O’Brien said in the panel following the pilot airing, he hopes that showcasing a group of very talented individuals smart enough to hack into government technology and bomb a country with just a few key strokes while not being able to hold a meaningful conversation with anybody will open the door for more high IQ geniuses to not only realize that it’s okay to be the way that they are, but there are other people out there like them.
Listen if I can get involved in a series where the lead character is turned into an asset after his old friend from college downloaded every government secret into his head at once while he’s protected by two very different handlers (one of whom happens to be drop dead gorgeous and the other is Animal Mother), then I can’t get mad at Scorpion for going a little over the top in at least one episode.
If you can reconcile reality from fiction before sitting down to watch the first show, ‘Scorpion’ definitely has addictive qualities to it if they can keep up with strong writing and engagements to involve the team in week to week. Just like ‘Chuck’ this show will start out as a new adventure of the week, each week, but as time progresses (and assuming it gets picked up by CBS), ‘Scorpion’ would do well to introduce more serialized storytelling with a major plot/villain is the main antagonist for most of the season.
All in all, ‘Scorpion’ was a fun watch, but not a great watch. For fans of ‘Chuck’ this is the show for you, but Katharine McPhee is no Yvonne Strahovski although if Robert Patrick and Adam Baldwin had a ‘man off’, the world might just implode.
‘Scorpion’ will debut on Monday nights on CBS this fall.