“Numb3rs” on CBS

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. How­ev­er, 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.

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

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 - Pilot Episode

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?

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