”Brilliant minds working at half capacity."

As I get older and I stop paying attention to certain things in the world around me, there are fewer and fewer times when I’m on the list of “smartest guys in the room,” and I’m okay with that. I don’t chew tables and I don’t try to walk with both feet going forward at the same time, so I do all right. In CBS’ revved-up new drama Scorpion, viewers enter the world of someone who is always the smartest guy within thousands of square miles of the room. His name is Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), and his emotions are unbalanced.

Based on a true story spun into a series by Breakout Kings creator Nick Santora, Scorpion kicks things off with a real incident from Walter’s childhood, where he hacked into NASA in order to get some wall decorations, only to find himself staring down the barrel of many guns. As an adult, Walter hasn’t quite found his calling yet, despite being able to tell you the etymology of the word “calling” and the muscles that need to be worked in order to say “calling.” He’s got an IQ of a hundred-and-whoop-dee-doo, and when he isn’t installing WiFi in diners, he’s cooking up coding prospects with his cyber-squad of talent-specific masterminds.

There’s the “mechanical prodigy” Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), who’s better at putting a computer together than typing on it. The “human calculator” Sylvester Dodd is a whiz with numbers and is always there to keep you current on what the probability of a certain event happening is. Then there’s the “world class shrink” Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), the one who can tell at what age you experienced your worst trauma simply by how you parted your hair. They’re the Mods Squad.

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For me, the “this is how smart people talk” dialogue was insufferable at times, and laughable at others, like Limitless playing inside of a box of mirrors. But I can’t deny the episode has a solid hook to sink one’s attention span into. Robert Patrick shows up as Homeland Security’s Cabe Gallo, who worked with Walter during a tragic event in the past, and delivers news that LAX experienced problems during a software upgrade and now all communication is down between the airport and the planes above. Fright! Instead of just popping by to let Walter know, Gallo actually wants him to take control of this ridiculously high-risk assignment. But it’s okay, because he did background checks on everybody.

As ludicrous as it all sounds, and is, there are times when genuine suspense and anxiety creep in, allowing me to just sit back and ride along. Especially during that purely bonkers climax, but also for a speedy drive through town during which I kept one eye closed. The latter scene is put in gear by Paige Dineen (Katharine McPhee), the waitress at the diner that becomes the operation’s central headquarters, due to Walter’s impeccable WiFi skills.

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I might have been able to accept Toby’s goofy jokes and Sylvester’s nervous energy had Paige not been a part of this. She and Walter have instant tension over her son, who is probably a genius just like Walter. I don’t recall hearing the word “autistic” used during the episode, though there is a Rain Man joke, but autism is clearly at the heart of this part of the story and that’s wonderful. I just wish it was presented in a way that didn’t involve this fish out of smartwater character joining the team.

This wasn’t a great pilot, but Scorpion could definitely become something fun to zone out on. Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious franchise directed the pilot, and his touch was a major source of the palpable tension. Maybe things will get better as it goes along. I’m not smart enough to figure out the odds on that happening. But I’ll say that any show wasting Ernie Hudson on such a lameass role deserves to be viewed with intensive scrutiny.

Rating:

Watch Scorpion when it debuts on CBS on Monday, September 22 at 9 p.m. ET. Find all of the Fall TV premieres here.

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