Thursday, October 30, 2014

Brain power packs a powerful sting in 'Scorpion'

(Oct. 10, PDI Entertainment)
 By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Brainpower reigns supreme in the action-drama series “Scorpion.”

Inspired by a true story, it is about misfit geniuses who team up with America’s Department of Homeland Security.

Off to a favorable start, the series centers on a master hacker, Walter (Elyes Gabel), who, in the pilot episode, hesitantly works with a federal agent (Robert Patrick) on a huge and dangerous case.

Walter’s Scorpion team —behaviorist Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas), machine expert Happy (Jadyn Wong) and “human calculator” Sylvester (Ari Stidham)—contributes significantly to the mission.

But the unexpected new member of the group is the waitress Paige (Katharine McPhee), a nongenius mother of one. She becomes a crucial component to the success of that perilous first mission.

She later gets recruited as the team’s “translator,” who catches human and emotional nuances that the “brainiacs” might miss. In return, they help her with her son, an exceptionally brilliant, if largely misunderstood, kid.

 “Scorpion” gets pleasantly didactic, sharply focusing on each nerdy character’s strengths. They have their quirks and weaknesses and are obviously socially awkward, which make all of the smart characters intriguing and more than just eccentric.

“American Idol” and “Smash” alum McPhee’s more mature, nonsinging role is fresh; as the “normal” character, she seems like an outsider in this quintessential clique of outsiders. She also partly provides the perspective for viewers, a newbie in a world of high-stakes quests, high-tech espionage and complex puzzle-solving.

Patrick, ever-reliable in father and lawman roles, gets to combine both as the team’s government connection, atoning for past sins and acknowledging the mini-intelligentsia as useful assets. He becomes more human in the second episode when his past is briefly discussed; the new team reminds him of painful losses and that ever-elusive second chance.

Gabel, who previously appeared in “Game of Thrones,” impresses as an intelligent but periodically disconnected character. It is easy to like Walter—a smug, condescending know-it-all—despite his faults.

As for missions, “Scorpion” starts engagingly with a big-budget, effects-heavy scenario involving airplanes. The second episode’s threat involves a designer bio-weapon—it feels mostly like a procedural/cop show—a bit semi-smarmy à la “NCIS,” but it has its own charm.

And these early episodes, so far, have challenges that are neatly solved. The stories are ultimately feel-good capers despite dealing mostly with danger and potential disasters.

(“Scorpion” airs Tuesdays, 9 p.m., on RTL CBS Entertainment.)

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