Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pilot Review: Scorpion

Scorpion (Mondays at 9:00 on CBS)

Scorpion begins with a title card: "Inspired by a true story." I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the scene of a car chasing a low-flying plane across the runways of LAX, with the pilot hanging from the landing gear and an American Idol runner-up standing up in a speeding Ferrari while they pass an ethernet cable back and forth, isn't included in that disclaimer. That's just one in a long string of ridiculous scenes that comprise this utterly stupid pilot about, ironically, a group of super-geniuses.

I can't begrudge Scorpion one thing: the action is a lot of fun. That's no surprise considering the pilot is directed by Justin Lin, the guy who's helmed four of the six The Fast & The Furious films. Pretty much everything that applies to those movies applies to Scorpion: the action scenes are fun, but they make no sense. The pilot opens with Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel, Body of Proof, Game of Thrones) as a child hacking into NASA. Cut to Walter as an adult, and he's an anti-social hacker and computer repairman fixing a diner's wi-fi. Out of nowhere, Special Agent Gallo (Robert Patrick, Last Resort) shows up and wants Walter and his squad of genius friends to help restore some software at LAX that has developed a bug which won't allow communications with planes in the air. Why can only Walter, "one of the five smartest people in the world," and his band of merry men help? Who knows, or cares. But they do, and they enlist the help of a waitress (who just so happens to be raising a genius son, because apparently everyone in Los Angeles is a genius, and they all hang out at this one diner) along the way. Just go with it.

Where to begin? Just to be clear, Scorpion is nonsense. Almost nothing about its plot is smart or original, especially not the central conceit of the planes and sky tower not being able to communicate. So if planes aren't getting any response from LAX, wouldn't they radio in to another airport in the area? There are several nearby. And if several planes are grounded, why can't the necessary software be downloaded from one of them rather than from one in the air? Stupid. Nonsense. Ridiculous.

But the car chases are cool. There's a scene (with a really bad green screen effect in the background of close shots) of Katherine McPhee (Smash, American Idol) driving her beat-up little car at over 100mph through the streets of LA en route to the airport that actually is very well done and very exciting. So kudos to Justin Lin for that. And despite how insanely dumb the final scene I mentioned above of the Ferrari/Boeing chase, it's batshit crazy fun when you don't think about it. Ironic considering the concept, right?

Aside from being stupid, it's kind of hard to relate to anybody. The only member of the genius group who is at all personable is Toby, "a world-class shrink" played by American Pie's Eddie Kaye Thomas. He's funny and cocky and actually has a personality. Then there's Happy (Jadyn Wong), a "mechanical prodigy" who doesn't really do much of anything but hotwire a car and pick locks, and Sylvester (Ari Stidham), the math whiz with a germ phobia. Neither gets much screen time, and what little they have isn't maximized for potential. Instead, most of the screen time is given to McPhee and Gabel, who have absolutely zero chemistry together, to develop a plotline in which Walter helps Paige relate to her son in exchange for Paige helping Walter relate to "normal" people. It's meant to be emotional, but it comes across more forced because of McPhee's woodenness and Gabel's douchebag tendencies. What could have had potential in creating a dialogue about how society fails to properly deal with gifted and/or challenged children instead feels like a manipulative afterthought. Scorpion could serve itself well by playing to this emotional heart more. Otherwise, Paige might as well not even be present.

Not that it really matters, because the viewers who are watching for car chases, plane stunts, and quick cuts aren't going to care that the writing and acting are nonsense. Lin has already proven that point with the megablockbuster film franchise he's guided to the top of the worldwide box office on four separate occasions. If Scorpion just wants to be that kind of silly, style-over-substance series then that's fine. But don't wrap it up in dressings that purport to be intelligent.

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