fall tv 2014

TV Review: If CBS’s Scorpion Is About Geniuses, Why Is It So Dumb?

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS

That guy over there? He’s a genius. You can tell he’s a genius by the way he’s constantly rude and dismissive to women. He pedantically and unceasingly lectures that woman he somehow was dating; he criticizes that waitress’s nail polish because yeah, she’s definitely doing that for his benefit and analysis. He’s just such a genius, you see. It’s impossible for him to relate to anyone who’s not a genius, and obviously, at the genius club there is only room for one woman, so everyone else who’s not a genius — goats? Is that the opposite of a genius? Who can care? — will simply have to step aside. Genius coming through. Watch out for the genius. Genius here.

If that sounds like a fun show to you, congratulations; has Scorpion, which premieres tonight on CBS, ever got your number. The Eye’s newest procedural was definitely described in some godforsaken pitch meeting as “The Big Bang Theory meets CSI: Cyber,” and that’s apt enough if you remove any shred of personality. The U.S. government enlists the help of a ragtag group of brainiacs to help thwart high-tech crimes; said brainiacs enlist the help of a pouty diner waitress to help “translate” the world for them. She is of course inclined to help because she’s the mother of a genius, and these government-supported geniuses have promised to help her “reach” him. Indeed, who could be better qualified to help a child than some guy who saw him in a diner once and never spoke to him? Typical genius, always helping. The waitress is Katharine McPhee. I’d say McPhee plays the waitress, but … mostly she stands there in a waitress costume.

Enough about that waitress, though. This is a show about geniuses! The characters mention their respective and collective IQs four times in the first 18 minutes of the show, which should tell you something: First, that they’re geniuses; second, that they’re incredibly insecure; third, that this show thinks you’re a huge, huge idiot; and fourth, this show is not interested in authentic human behavior. IQ is such an odd, outdated standard, largely a measure of a child’s proximity to social capital. I cannot imagine any adult, let alone a genius one, focusing on such a metric — and if there were such a person, or group of people, why on earth would I want to spend time with them? For a show about such allegedly brilliant people, Scorpion works hard to make sure you never ever have to think.

Scorpion tries to get action-heavy in its final act, with the brain trust preventing an aviation disaster at LAX, and for a brief interlude, the show has a glimmer of momentum — but it’s undercut by how ludicrous the whole setup is, how unnatural the dialogue is, and how impossible it feels to care what happens to any of these people. House’s jerk-genius thing worked because House had a strong, unusual voice. It might be hard to remember this, but CSI was distinctively over the top when it debuted, particularly graphic, but also kind of glitzy. Scorpion is perfectly functional, I suppose, but I don’t know what itch it’s scratching.

TV Review: CBS’s Scorpion Has No Sting