Scorpion is, on paper at least – and let’s face it, none of the characters, save for possibly veteran FBI special Agent Gabe Callo (Robert Patrick), would be seen dead around anything so physical and antiquated – a bundle of well-used network formula drama tropes that have been gathered together from various police procedural shows, series centred on inspired but socially-awkward geniuses, and quite specifically, given that it airs in the US on CBS (Channel 10 here in Australia), The Big Bang Theory.
It shouldn’t by any stretch of the viewing imagination, and it is pulled like a piece of super-malleable saltwater taffy in a thousand different directions in the pilot alone, such that, oh say, a plane could fly through the holes created, come across as fresh, fun or highly entertaining with so many borrowed influences.
But somehow it does, thanks largely to a storyline that glories in its over-the-top persona, characters that for all their archetype-ness can actually be cared about, and a premise that will allow the show to pop in any narrative direction that seizes its vaulting imagination.
Subtle and layered it is not, but Scorpion somehow manages to mostly transcend its all too obvious been-there-done-that dramatic components as it tells the true story (a claim that suggests more airy influences than flesh-and-blood factual re-tellings) of Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), an Irish boy who at 13 years of age was taken into custody after he hacked his way into sensitive US government computer systems.
Granted an “Extraordinary Ability” visa, similar to the one that was granted to Albert Einstein (who, O’Brien is quick to point “only ” had an IQ of 136 while he possesses 197, the fourth-highest ever recorded) after doing a deal with the “Men in Black”, O’Brien went on to form a multinational company that has reputedly saved the world several times over, including to help track down the Boston bombers.
It is, from any objective point of view, an impressive, inspiring story, one tempered however by the downside of possessing such fearsome, greater-than-lesser-mortals intelligence which is an almost-absent ability to function as a “normal” member of society, one usually driven as much by emotional impulses as cerebral insight.
In the case of Scorpion‘s version of Walter O’Brien, and the supremely-gifted friends he gathers around him – “human calculator” Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham), mechanical engineer Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong) and behavioural specialist Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas) – their lives are circumscribed almost entirely by their IQ than their EQ (emotional quotient), rendering them a group of ferociously smart people with a combined IQ of nearly 700 [who] can’t even pay our bills.”
Struggling to keep their business afloat, they are thrown a lifeline by Agent Callo, the man who first sough to arrest O’Brien many years earlier, and with whom he shares an uneasy history, who asks them to restore the software that allows the control tower at LAX after its automatic update is mysteriously corrupted, preventing them from assisting 56 soon to run of fuel planes from landing.
It ignores of course the fact there would be multiple redundancies for a critical system like this, necessitating ever more outlandish schemes such a plane flying perilously low to the ground over a speeding Lamborghini to restore the original software and prevent a huge loss of life.
Through the course of their ever more frantic and over the top quests to solve this latest challenge to their combined intellect, one that comes close to defeating them until the waitress Paige Dineen (Katharine McPhee) at the cafe where they have based themselves (she is the mother of a gifted 9 year old boy who touchingly bonds with O’Brien) successfully appeals to O’Brien’s modicum of EQ to take another look at the problem, you are asked to suspend your disbelief to such an extent that it is barely in one piece at episode’s end.
But it matters not ultimately since Scorpion isn’t so much interested in being utterly, completely one hundred percent true to life as it is in telling the story of four people trying to fit into a society that really doesn’t comprehend who they are or what they do exactly.
It is, in essence, a tale of misfits trying to find their own unique place in the world, a theme which the pilots returns to again and again, and one which gives the show some much needed grounding and humanity in amongst all the down-to-the-wire and patently absurd plot twists and turns.
It’s hardly going to challenge Breaking Bad or Mad Men for dramatic gravitas or probing intellectual dissertation but then it isn’t meant to; it is designed to entertain, enthral and capture our hearts – the nascent relationship between O’Brien and Dineen, though a tad emotionally manipulative, is still enjoyable to watch – and bring some “gee whiz” fun back into our viewing schedules.
And in that regard, in the pilot episode at least, it succeeds admirably, although whether it can sustain it over the longterm without succumbing to the ennui of case-of-the-week-itis is another thing entirely.