September 22, 2014



SCORPION:  Monday 9PM on CBS starting – Worth A Look

PLAYERS:  The real-life hacker Walter O’Brien, on whose adventures Scorpion is (very loosely) based–and who is also an Executive Producer on the show.  Series creator Nick Santora, who created Breakout Kings and was a writer/producer on Prison Break.  Pilot director Justin Lin.  An ensemble cast headed by Elyes Gabel as O’Brien, and featuring Katharine McPhee, Robert Patrick, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jadyn Wong and Ari Stidham.  Non-writing producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.  CBS Studios.

PREMISE:  O’Brien, a genius computer hacker, is recruited by Homeland Security official Gallo (Patrick)–with whom he has an uneasy past–to solve crises for the government, working alongside his quirky crew of brilliant, antisocial associates:  behavioral expert Toby (Thomas), mechanical whiz Happy (Wong), and mathematician Sylvester (Stidham).  Along the way, they acquire Paige (McPhee), a single mom and ex-waitress who never realized that her uncommunicative son  (no one uses the word, but he appears to be borderline autistic) is also a budding phenom.  She serves as the group’s normal-person interface with the outside world.

PILOT:  The Scorpion pilot is very likely of the you’ll-never-see-this-again variety, with a third act that features cars careening through the streets of LA and a CG airliner sequence that explains why the director of 3 Fast & the Furious movies (and the celebrated paintball episodes of Community) was on hand.  Those kinds of production values can help a pilot get ordered to series, but they’re almost impossible to duplicate on a weekly episodic budget.  What that will leave, in this case, is an often ridiculous yet breezily entertaining procedural, easily pitched as Big Bang Theory with crimefighters, or the show Mind Games screwed up.  The pilot plot, something about a bad piece of software that’s going to make all the planes circling LAX crash if it’s not replaced in an impossible amount of time, is disposable in the extreme, but Santoro–who knows about implausibility after Prison Break–keeps it all moving very quickly, so you have a limited amount of time to realize just how crazy it all is.

The characters are all types.  O’Brien is portrayed as an uber-nerd, a more humane version of The Social Network‘s Mark Zuckerberg, and Gabel has the necessary smartest-guy-in-the-room intensity, plus a touch more self-knowledge than his cohorts.  McPhee, painfully out of her depth on Smash and, as a result, the unfortunately deserving target of a great deal of internet scorn, is just fine here in a role where she has to be little more than pretty and compassionate.  Robert Patrick is a sturdy not-quite-trustworthy authority figure, and Thomas, Wong and Stidham soldier through their assortment of high-functioning brainiacs.  It’s understandable that Santoro chose to provide a point of connection between Paige and the gang by giving her a son they can recognize as resembling one of their own , but that’s the riskiest part of the enterprise, introducing a potential for being maudlin that may not mix well with the action.

PROSPECTS:  Scorpion isn’t destination television.  It does fit the CBS brand, with perhaps a bit more humor than the network’s procedural norm.  It won’t have things easy, airing against both The Voice and Sleepy Hollow in an hour that for years has been a home for sitcoms on CBS.  It will have the advantage of following an hour spearheaded by The Big Bang Theory for the first few weeks of the season, but that’s a short-term boost, since Big Bang will return to Thursdays once the CBS football season ends.  Scorpion seems likely to be a bubble show, angling for that older audience that isn’t watching Dancing With the Stars, hoping The Voice will start to wane, and depending on NCIS: LA fans who are impatient for 10PM.  It’s probably not a sizable hit, but perhaps successful enough to survive.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."