Created by Nick Santora (who wrote for the similarly ludicrous Prison Break), CBS's new action-thriller SCORPION is another U.S drama that feels like an assemblage of old parts than anything distinct, fresh, and exciting. It begins like the film Hackers, with a young Walter O'Brien being arrested by the U.S government (from his Irish country home), for hacking NASA looking for Shuttle blueprints to wallpaper his bedroom. Fast-forward a few decades and Walter's now an ethnic Zach Galligan lookalike leading a gang of misfit geniuses from a warehouse HQ, who are called into national service by Agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) when an airport software glitch puts passenger jets in danger of falling out of the sky.
It's actually quite amusing to spot all the influences and steals in the Scorpion pilot. There's aspects of latter-day Prison Break (especially the final season where the fugitives were working for the government), comedy along the lines of The Big Bang Theory (Katharine McPhee appears as a sexy diner waitress later employed because she's a conduit between nerds-and-normal-people), the aforementioned 1990s cult movie Hackers, lashings of Sherlock (which has been responsible for a tsunami of semi-autistic characters able to discern private information based on seemingly inconsequential observations), and even the pilot of X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen (which also saw geeks staving off aeronautical disaster—directed at the World Trade Centre back then, eerily).
There really isn't much about Scorpion that feels unique and special, which is a shame. The characters even boil down to Cabe 'the hardass agent' Gallo, Walter 'the handsome nerd' O'Brien (Elyes Gabel), Sylvester 'the fat genius' Dodd (Ari Stidham), Toby 'the hipster in the hat' Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Happy 'the geek girl' Quinn (Jadyn Wong). However, Scorpion isn't really trying to be anything other than a preposterous dose of geek-flavoured escapism (The A-Team with A-Levels) so the sheer energy of this pilot helps pull things together... well, somewhat.
The various ways the geeks try to end the airborne crisis, by uploading old software into the LAX control tower, are fairly compelling... and by the time the episode built to its magnificently OTT climax, with Walter driving a sports car full throttle down a runway, while waitress Paige tried to plug a laptop into an Ethernet cable a brave co-pilot was dangling out from a jet's landing gear... well, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't fun. Utterly preposterous, make no mistake about it, but fun.
Will Scorpion concoct equally zany, entertaining hours with geat regularity, or will its weekly episodes be less grandiose and dull? Will the geek-speak and Sherlock-isms grow tiresome? Like every pilot, there are always lots of questions that swirl around your mind as you try and predict what the future has in store. I only know that Scorpion's premiere offered nothing unique, and felt like a patchwork of elements from other shows, but it was also well-calibrated to deliver dumb entertainment. The direction by Justin Lin (who's just been announced for True Detective), was also tight and the two big set-pieces worked well. I just hope the characters rise above the blanks and stereotypes that came together here, because they were essentially a group of walking clichés with stupid mannerisms than people I want to spend time with every week.
written by Nick Santora • directed by Justin Lin • 22 September 2014 • CBS