Scorpion, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
September 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
Writing a genius is hard. It would be easy to say it takes a genius to write a genius, but really, it’s an incredibly different skill set. Creative geniuses and the type of geniuses that pop up on shows ostensibly bout the brilliant are very different beasts, who think, and operate, in very different ways and whose knowledge base is drastically divergent. It’s also hard to write a pilot. Pilots have to set up the world of the show, introduce its characters, give viewers some idea of what the show will look like week to week, and find some way to be entertaining in the midst of all of this. As a result, most shows get better after their pilots. Most shows work out the kinks and become stronger over their first several episodes. When I write about a pilot, I am always compelled to point out that my observations are all tentative. This could be a different show in five episodes. Often, series are after that length of time.
That being said, Scorpion is perhaps the dumbest show I’ve ever seen about geniuses, to the point where I’m not sure anyone involved has any understanding whatsoever of what it means to be a genius. Several different behavioral disorders are chalked up to the quirks of being a genius in “Pilot,” and all are treated with basically the same broad strokes. See, that genius is a misogynist who dismisses all women, that genius is an obsessive compulsive who constantly calculates everyone around him, and that genius is a near-mute chess prodigy. Don’t worry about the particulars. After all, if this was being written even passably, they would all be over your head.
All Scorpion has to offer is ignorance about genius, and a series of rude, unpleasant, completely one-dimensional caricatures whose assholery we are expected to accept in exchange for their hyper-competence. In this pilot, cold, calculating Homeland Security spymaster Robert Patrick pulls together a ragtag bunch of geniuses (whose personal lives are a mess, because irony) to help prevent a catastrophe when software at LAX goes haywire, and a waitress is pulled into the crisis because someone needs to “translate” for these people, which mostly means the show needed at least one person who isn’t entirely insufferable to cut through all of the endless blather.
If I had a dollar for every time the word “genius” was uttered in “Pilot,” I wouldn’t be reviewing this show right now because escrow would be closing on my own private island. And yet, never once did any of these sociopathic monsters register as actual geniuses. They registered instead as the sort of thing someone who saw half of an episode of Sherlock once might think of as how to write a “genius.” The show seems constantly to be overcompensating by indicating it knows the word for these people its created, and that they’re geniuses because they get results. No one on Scorpion acts like a real human being. No one behind the scenes at Scorpion thinks you are a discerning viewer, or anyone who expects anything else from television but moving pictures. They think you’re an idiot of the sort who hears “genius” and decides to tuck in for three or four seasons of genius-y misadventures. It’s deeply insulting, and the show barely bothers to be entertaining as compensation for the slight.
Eventually, Scorpion reveals itself to be yet another brainless CBS actioner, with a third-act set piece that involves a Ferrari speeding under a low-flying plane for reasons that don’t make sense if you know anything about pretty much anything. The sequence is still pretty cool, because there is an inherent visceral thrill to watching a car drive fast under a plane, but it’s almost immediately more frustrating for how little thought went into everything around the set piece (including the maddeningly cliché moment where the car screeches to a stop inches before a collision). Someone in a writer’s room somewhere had the idea for a car racing along under a plane, and someone else decided that was enough to hang a pilot on. It wasn’t.
Scorpion is the sort of show that exists because there was an unfilled timeslot somewhere, and because someone thought that if the word “genius” was uttered frequently enough in a 45 minute period, some viewers would walk away thinking what they’d just watched was smart. Scorpion is the sort of awful that is almost irredeemable. When it comes to pilots, I always clarify that weak points can be ironed out over time, but Scorpion is virtually nothing but weak points, with a speeding car as its only strength. If I hear this show becomes good later in its first season (which is always possible), I’ll assume that if I tune back in, I’ll be watching something almost entirely different. Nothing about this works. Nothing about this comes close to resembling good television. Nothing is worse than an idiot pretending to be a genius because he overheard the word at a dinner party once. Scorpion is the procedural equivalent of that, the guy nobody wanted to invite to the party who prepared the wrong cocktail conversation and never knows when to stop talking. The real geniuses changed the channel before the first commercial break.
- Below are a few examples of the awful exchanges that pass for dialogue here:
- “We worked together years ago. The outcome was…unfavorable.”
- “Breaking this down logically, you aren’t just going to let those people fall out of the sky.”
- “I’m sure there’s an army of people working on this as we speak.”
- “Eh, a blood-soaked spleen could burn at a lower rate…” Ok, this line, I liked. Of course, it makes absolutely no sense that the behaviorist would be pointing that out, but then, this is the show we’re watching.
- “You save everybody. Normal people save everybody.”
- “We’re at 100. This thing doesn’t have air bags.” “You know, at this speed, they’re useless. Go faster.”
That being said, Scorpion is perhaps the dumbest show I’ve ever seen about geniuses, to the point where I’m not sure anyone involved has any understanding whatsoever of what it means to be a genius.