Quite frankly, it’s been a while since I really followed anything on CBS. That’s why I was intrigued that Rob Morrow was going to be on a new series, and further, that it would be about a mathematician helping the FBI to solve cases. I’ve been collecting some of the shows on the TiVo for the past month, but I’ve been waiting until after I had a chance to watch the fourth episode, "Structural Corruption," to post some thoughts about the show. Yes, that was a week ago, but keep in mind I have a day job with long hours.
NUMB3RS – Pilot Episode – Image courtesy of www.numb3rs.org
Ok, the 2 second soundbite review of the show: "A Beautiful Mind" meets "CSI." Now, onto the meat. Rob Morrow is actually quite believable in the role of FBI Special Agent Don Eppes. I don’t find myself thinking of waylaid doctors in Alaska at all. The other cast members are all well done as well. This isn’t NYPD Blue heavy, where things are so gritty you need a shower after the credits role and it isn’t a soundstage sitcom, either. It’s a nice drama, with as much on the personal stories of the characters as the cases themselves. It seems no show is willing to follow the original Law & Order format, where the cases are the stars and the reoccurring actors just help to support the story. That’s okay, seeing where the characters live is not bad for the greater story that spans episodes, either. I do find the portrayal of the scientists as somewhat trite, in that they’re all spacey and can’t remember if they weren’t going in or out of the building because they’re too deep in thought. I’ve know many brilliant scientists and mathematicians, and they mostly thought about beer and sex just like the rest of us. They never had a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time, so to speak. I will say, that for all the parts, the show’s producers seemed to bother to try and find people who could pull of the part rather than just look while blankly going on about statistics, formulas, and number theory.
NUMB3RS – Rob Morrow as FBI Special Agent Don Eps & Sabrina Lloyd as F
BI Special Agent Terry Lake. Image courtesy of www.numb3rs.org
The direction of the show is in the style of Fox’s 24, with handheld camera’s filming from sometimes inconvenient angles, such as from outside vehicles and through doorframes, etc. It’s well done here, and the style isn’t tired yet. The special effects are nice. Given the shows running theme of mathematics (and it’s many disciplines, such as physics and engineering), it’s like watching those nice little animations on a Discovery show like Mythbusters.
This brings me to the fourth episode. First of all, the premise of the show (that is, a student discovering a structural problem with a already built, high profile building) is based on the story of the Citicorp building in Manhattan. A year after the landmark building was opened, structural engineer William LeMessuerier received a phone call from a student who claimed the columns were not in optimum locations to resist loading from wind. It’s the very first story, chapter one, of my college engineering ethics textbook. Anyway, the story ends with LeMessurier realizing that even though the way the building was constructed (which wasn’t exactly the way he’d specified) would likely fail catastrophically in a 16-year wind, not a 50 or 100-year wind that the building would have been designed for. LeMessurier came up with remediation plans and Citicorp implemented them, saving the building, the church at the buildings base, and any number of people from harm or death. It’s considered the story engineers tell their children to teach them how to respond to errors.
The Numb3rs episode deals with this, as well as college students’ high risk of suicide, shady contractors, and even finds time to bring up some romance. As a structural engineer, some of the technical discussions seemed a little child-like. However, I’m sure that most of the stuff I can’t follow on ER my wife groks without thought. The fact that Charlie (David Krumholtz) and his physicist mentor, Larry (Peter MacNicol), build a computer model of the building to respond to seismic and wind forces in an afternoon is a little comical. I won’t go into it, but it’s not likely they would be able to do it in a month, let alone a few hours. They at least bother to explain what’s going on. Anyway, Charlie gets very wrapped in determining what the young engineering student was trying to discover. The students death, judged to be a suicide, seems to deeply affect our hero. Oddly, it seems the engineering student left nothing but lots of blueprints of buildings around and no notes or calculations of any kind to indicate he may have been concerned about excessive deflection under quartering winds. Oh, well, some engineers do things in their heads, I suppose. With the help of the FBI strong-arming some rotten contractors, the building is soon to be saved with the help of our old friend: the tuned mass dampener.
Numb3rs has a lot of promise as a series. It can certainly have some interesting cases due to the fact that pretty much everything can be tied in to math. They do it already on cop, medical, and investigation dramas. No reason to think this couldn’t be just as successful. The show needs to try and find it’s own voice and feel early on, so as to not be anything more than "A Beautiful CSI – Los Angeles." For what it’s worth, it’s not got a season pass on the TiVo. What show could ask for more?