Replicating “CSI” isn’t a precise formula, but the program-crunchers at CBS have nevertheless proven adept at doing so. So it is with this well-cast drama, based on the theory math can be fun if applied to catching killers. Although a math whiz deciphering crimes each week threatens to strain credulity, the pilot is atmospheric, with the imprimatur of filmmaking brothers Tony and Ridley Scott as a selling point. Add it up, and CBS should total better numbers than “Dr. Vegas” rolled Fridays, assuming the producers can crack the episodic code.
Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz are convincing as brothers Don and Charlie Eppes — the former an FBI agent tracking a serial rapist, the latter a “world-class mathematician” at the local university. During a chance meeting at the house of their dad (Judd Hirsch), Charlie notices a pattern in the crime-scene distribution that can allow him to zero in on the killer’s location.
Of course, watching Charlie think falls into PBS territory, so he’s helped along with animation and visions to penetrate his head. Ultimately, though, it’s an unusually brainy show that tosses around musings about laws of probability and the nature of randomness — Sherlock Holmes for the slide-rule set.
As with the “CSI” posse, there’s a faith in science here that somehow validates a gruesome emphasis on crime, as if we should earn adult-education credits for tuning in. Still, Krumholtz’s frantic equation-scribbling and his chats with a university colleague (Peter MacNicol) inject a modicum of freshness into what’s otherwise the same old crime scene investigating of cold cases left unsolved without a trace.
At first glance, Morrow seems a trifle miscast as the FBI agent, but he’s effective enough so long as the series stays on a relatively cerebral (as opposed to busting-down-doors) plane. Krumholtz, by contrast, a one-time kid star, is perfectly suited to this grown-up role, and the wild-eyed MacNicol also offers considerable promise.
The major stumbling block remains that it’s odd to contemplate seeking algorithmic solutions to crimes or having a guy who got beat up a lot in high school answering 911 calls. So even with Charlie functioning as a kind of adjunct to the bureau, it’s muddled how they’ll consistently capitalize on his abilities. At least the psychic on NBC’s “Medium” can see dead people any old time.
On the plus side, “Numb3rs” doesn’t need to amass huge Nielsen stats to retain its regular Friday timeslot, and CBS has learned that the appetite for procedurals isn’t easily sated. To improve the odds, the network is premiering the show Sunday immediately following the sure-to-be-high-rated AFC Championship football game. And based on the fact “CSI” Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are all thriving, the pattern looks favorable, though as Charlie would doubtless attest, calculating TV survival can be murder.