Twenty minutes into the pilot episode of Scorpion (Mondays on CBS), the titular lead, Walter O’Brien a.k.a. Scorpion, played by actor Elyes Gabel, somberly tells a waitress mom (Katherine McPhee), “I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news – your son is a genius.”
Cut to commercial.
In August, I wrote a post entitled “What TV Gets Wrong About Smart Kids (and Adults),” lamenting the fact that, in the eyes of television writers and producers, being intelligent, talented and/or gifted is truly a fate worse than death.
Scorpion does very little to dispel that notion.
The team headed by O’Brien includes Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas) a former street-kid who got his doctorate in psychology from Harvard at age 17, yet whose savant-level grasp of human behavior boils down to “mirroring” a person so they’ll feel more comfortable – a gambit that fails the first time we see him in action; Sylvester (Ari Stidham), a math genius who gets so involved in his work that he forgets to eat – though he’s still played by an overweight actor, lest viewers forget he’s a nerd; as well as a token girl (or token Asian stereotype; dealer’s choice) Happy (Jadyn Wong), a “mechanical prodigy,” which basically means she frequently makes things explode into cool sparks.
All have a combined Intelligence Quotient of 700+ (Walter announces that Einstein’s IQ was 165 while his is 197; he must be a super-genius to know that, since Einstein never took an IQ test). Yet the entire Scorpion team agrees that they need Paige the waitress to “translate the world for us.”
There are two possible reasons to watch a show like Scorpion.
One is for the cool brain tricks.
The action set-piece of the pilot involves the Scorpion gang needing to receive data by email from an airplane circling overhead. The plane dips within transmission range and attempts to send, but the speed differential between it and the stationary laptop they're using makes it impossible. So Walter decides they should hop into a sports-car that can match the jet’s speed, have the plane fly only a few yards above the runway, then drive underneath it while they hook the two computers up by wire.
They proceed to do so with great tension and fanfare. While my 15-year-old son, a disaster aficionado (I'd think it was weird, except the existence of shows like Air Crash Investigation suggest he’s not the only one), pointed out, “A 767 has a landing speed of 160 mph and a take-off speed of 180. They should be stalling… now!” By the end of the sequence, he was practically curled into a fetal ball, mumbling, “I can't. I just… can't.”
Once the data is received, Walter exposits that they can instantly forward it to the control tower that needs it. Except, as my MIT-educated engineer husband observed, “The speed differential between them in the car and the stationary tower is exactly the same now as it was between their stationary lap-top and the jet, earlier.”
In other words, Cool Stunt: 1. Actual Science: 0.
The second reason to watch a show like Scorpion might be for the rare chance to see highly intelligent people lauded as heroes, maybe even – dare we so much as think it? – be considered cool.
But that’s not the case, here.
Several times during the pilot, we're informed that our leads are “a million miles from normal.” Yes, this is true. But why does it automatically have to be a bad thing?
“The only way they can show they're geniuses,” my husband offered, “is by doing everything really fast. Which is exactly not the way the real world works.”
“Plus, they use big words,” my son chimed in. “That means they're smart. We have to use TV writer logic.”
They are also neurotic (the math genius wipes down a diner counter because of the amount of bacteria he expects to be there) and socially inept.
You'd think if social skills were something they actually wanted to learn, they could have applied their high intelligence to learning it. My aforementioned husband spent the two years after college going to bars, sitting quietly and listening to people talk, so that he could learn how to communicate better. That's how smart people solve problems. By thinking them through. Admittedly, it's a lot less cinematic than a sports-car chasing a jumbo jet.
But no, Walter decides their only option is for Paige to become Scorpion’s liaison to the “normal” world. She, coincidentally, has a young son she believes is mentally challenged, but who, as noted in the opening, Walter immediately diagnoses as a genius,
In return, they’ll help Paige connect with the boy, since she admits she has no idea how to deal with him. The math genius assures her that’s a common problem with parents of gifted kids. He hasn’t spoken to his own for over a decade.
So there you have it: Smart people can't be expected to interact with the world (and they shouldn’t have to try; twice, Walter tells the little boy that if people don't get him, it’s “not his fault,”) and parents of exceptional children are totally helpless when it comes to raising them, so they should just give up and let experts take over.
In only the pilot episode, Scorpion manages to insult intelligent people, parents of intelligent people, and the intelligence of everyone watching.
Pretty dumb for a new show looking to build an audience.
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