There isn’t a lot of down time on the pilot episode for CBS’s “Scorpion,” which ends up being a good thing. When it does slow down, then the clunky dialogue and the emotional confessionals gives you time to see the weaknesses in the drama.
Based on a true story, “Scorpion” opens by introducing us to a young Walter O’Brien, a kid genius who attracts the attention of FBI agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) when he hacks into NASA.
Fast-forward two decades and Walter (Elyes Gabel) has put together a team of geniuses who are having a hard time paying the bills. Then to Walter’s dismay, Agent Gallo re-enters the picture. Planes are going to start falling out of the sky over Los Angeles unless Walter and his team can find a way to overcome the corrupted software keeping the planes from communicating with ground control and each other.
The fast pace will probably feel thrilling to viewers with its men in black cars skidding on to the scene, a race through L.A. where all the traffic lights are green and a commercial plane that dips to 100 feet over a speeding sports car — all very, very cool to watch — kudos to one of the series’ executive producers and the pilot’s director Justin Lin (“Fast and the Furious” franchise) for pulling off all of the above (and then some).
That’s what works. What doesn’t work is the intense desire to show how impossible it is for geniuses to interact with people of average intelligence. As true as that may be, Gabel’s performance takes it to extremes. At times, he’s robotic, reminiscent of “Star Trek” android Data (funny, because “Star Trek” rebooters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are among “Scorpion’s” executive producers). At other times, he’s over-sympathetic, even sappy.
We don’t get to learn much about his genius crew, except that they’re all just as you’d expect from nerd stereotypes.
Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), the crew’s mechanical prodigy, acts years younger than her age and threatens to punch anyone who offends her. And Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham), its math guru, lays on the awkwardness thick, complete with ticks and an OCD need for everything to be perfectly arranged.
The saving grace of the group is psychology expert Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), basically a profiler who uses his understanding of human behavior to solve the questions the others can’t, like where would a left-handed engineer place the hard drive backup for LAX’s software. Yet, he can also misread cues, such as mirroring Agent Gallo in order to relax him, though having the opposite affect. Thomas brings some believable (and comedic) personality to the role.
Making up for the team’s inability to relate to the outside world is waitress Paige Dineen (“American Idol” and “Smash’s” Katharine McPhee). Trapped in a diner, which becomes command central for the mission, she is raising a genius child and realizes he’s totally relating to this brainiac crew. And just in case she couldn’t arrive to that conclusion herself, Walter tells her multiple times during the hour.
McPhee and Gabel’s scenes together are the most emotional and confessional of the pilot episode. They’re also heavily written and manipulative. Viewers will either eat them up or roll their eyes. I did the latter, feeling like they went too long and didn’t quite fit alongside the pilot’s expository explanations of what’s going on with the plan and the one-liners between action sequences.
“Scorpion” is a mixed bag. It excels at its fast pace with the team thinking on their toes and making corrections as they go. The action stunts are pure eye candy. But, its dialogue is lightweight and its emotional swings are too heavy.
If one imagines the pilot as a selling tool for an action-adventure geek show, then clearly the “Big Bang Theory” network bought it. But, can they continue this pace and this level of action stunts? Probably not on a series budget. That leaves us with character development, which the pilot doesn’t do well.
“Scorpion” premieres Monday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.