Given the fortune CBS is spending on license fees for “The Big Bang Theory,” the network can be forgiven for trying to expand the show’s geek-chic vibe to its procedural-drama wheelhouse. So while “Scorpion” might boast factual inspiration (a true nerdy computer prodigy!), one needn’t be a genius to see this for what it is: an effort to create a hybrid version of “Mission: Impossible” and Sherlock Holmes with a team of brainy problem-solvers. Provided “the full resources of the U.S. government” to thwart appropriately ornate crimes, the participants in this mildy fun yet wholly disposable exercise would be wise not to dwell on calculating their chances of network survival.
Team leader Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) is introduced as a child, albeit one who brings the authorities descending onto his pastoral home by hacking into NASA.
Flash forward, and he’s put together a group of like-minded folk with genius IQs and the expected tics, including one dubbed a “human calculator.” This would be a handier skill in a pinch, frankly, if everyone didn’t already have an actual calculator on their mobile phones.
Walter and company are soon drafted into service by FBI agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick), a grizzled veteran trying to prevent a plot that will cause airplanes to begin dropping from the sky. In essence, the assignment morphs “It Takes a Thief” into “It Takes a Hacker,” producing one genuinely cool stunt that involves a low-altitude plane , and leads to the retention of the gang as a strategic response team — Homeland Security’s inhouse think tank (hardly a spoiler, since there would be no series otherwise).
The pilot also brings in what amounts to a set of ordinary eyes to marvel at Walter and company — Paige (Katharine McPhee), the single mom of a gifted son whose impenetrable brilliance has been misdiagnosed before Walter meets him. There’s an element of sweetness in that, offset slightly by its inherent manipulativeness and familiarity.
In terms of scheduling strategy, “Scorpion” moves into an hour where CBS’ comedies had been fading, but it still looks like a tall order for the show to gain much of a ratings toehold there. And while there’s something to be said for the brilliant inheriting the Earth, the series feels a little soft for a network with so many chalk-outline hours.
Then again, as one member of the group says during a tension-filled moment, quoting Han Solo to C3PO (naturally), “Never tell me the odds!”