[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: "Scorpion" (CBS)
The Pitch: "It's 'The Big Bang Theory' only they solve problems and Kat McPhee is Penny."
Quick Response: The pilot for "Scorpion" is pretty goofy and, for a show about geniuses, mighty stoooooopid, but it's not unamusing, so I can't ignore that "The Big Bang Theory" is one of the 10 worst pilots I've ever seen, but it eventually became a reasonably decent series. It's just hard to introduce smart characters and do it in a way that doesn't come across as over-reliant on big-brain stereotypes and "Scorpion" most certainly doesn't avoid that trap. You could almost say that creator Nick Santora doesn't care. The pilot is about showing how this core group of geniuses could be used to help Homeland Security (represented here by the reliable Robert Patrick) solve a variety of problems on a weekly basis. It isn't about generating human characteristics or human characters for the core group. You're really dealing with something weird when Katharine McPhee is the most relaxed, natural actor in your cast, but playing Normal Girl Paige, she isn't asked to do much more than be caring for her brilliant maladjusted son and perplexed by the geeks suddenly infiltrating her life. And she succeeds! [In this quick-take format, I won't get into the "Nerds are so socially inept that they require a waitress as their human-interaction-translator" nonsense, which will become harder to justify with every passing week, I'd bet.] Eddie Kaye Thomas is probably the second most easy-going member of the cast, playing a behavioral expert (a character straight out of ABC's "Mind Games," which will amuse both "Mind Games" viewers). British actor Elyes Gabel is wooden-but-not-bad as World's Fifth Smartest Man Walter. And then you have Jadyn Wong and Ari Stidham playing really clumsy nerd archetypes that will need to be desperately overhauled in subsequent episodes. Those two characters are just as broad as it gets and I think Stidham, in particular, is making all-too-predictable choices on every level. This is kinda Santora's thing, generating basically the exact same union of mismatched problem solvers as in "Breakout Kings" and the result is similarly one-dimensional in the early going, but also features similar notes of quippy energy anyway. Justin Lin directed the "Scorpion" pilot and you spend 25 minutes wondering why the "Fast and the Furious" veteran was a good choice for this material, as the characters stand around a diner and pitch ideas and write on blackboards. Then the last 15 minutes feature a splendidly out-of-left-field car chase and a high-octane climax involving a low-flying plane and snazzy sports car. Few directors do cartoonish action set pieces as well as Lin and the ending to "Scorpion" is mighty fun. It also sets a template I doubt the show will ever attempt approach again, which is a bit frustrating.
Desire To Watch Again: The "Scorpion" pilot isn't "good" in certainly objective measures -- nuance, layered characters, emotional investment in much of anything -- but it's entertaining. Will it become less entertaining when Lin isn't directing and the budgets are lower? Will it become better when the writers can actually flesh out characters? And if it becomes less entertaining but no better, how long will I watch just for Kat McPhee? I'm curious to find out.