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'Numb3rs,' deft
addition to cop genre

Math whiz applies formulas to snare evil-doers

By Toni Fitzgerald

   CBS already has five police procedurals and three more shows about lawyers on its schedule. Thus you’d expect that fictional crime rates should have dropped to nil by now, disallowing any more entries into the genre.
   You’d be wrong. There are apparently still enough heinous unsolved fake crimes to warrant yet another crime drama, “Numb3rs,” which premieres Sunday night on CBS before moving to Fridays at 10 p.m.
  The surprising thing is that, even with the over-saturation of such shows on the network, “Numb3rs” finds a new angle of crime fighting to explore. It’s as fresh as anything in the vein can feel at this point, when “CSI: Des Moines” seems almost inevitable.
   “Numb3rs" isn’t immune to those hokey police procedural standbys, like showing shadowy glimpses of how the perpetrator committed the crime or over-dramatizing confrontations between police brass and the crime solvers.
   But thanks in large part to a superlative cast and an original premise, “Numb3rs” offers a welcome cure to “Law & Order”-induced comas.
   Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) is an FBI agent with a slightly odd mathematician brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), and a genial dad, Alan (Judd Hirsch). When Don begins working a particularly challenging rape case, Charlie offers to help him figure out a pattern to the crimes using mathematical equations.
   At first Don is skeptical, insisting that no pattern exists that can help find the serial rapist, who has attacked 13 victims and killed the most recent woman. But after Charlie runs his equation through past crimes, and predicts with 80 percent accuracy the location of the perpetrator’s house based on where he dumped the victims, Don becomes a believer.
   He and partner Terry Lake (the versatile Sabrina Lloyd) begin working within Charlie’s parameters. It takes a few tweaks, but eventually they find their man and Don finds a new method of solving crimes.
   We know this because, in one of the show’s few annoying habits, people keep saying, “This will be a whole new way to solve crimes.” Perhaps that’s just CBS trying to reassure viewers that this isn’t just another “CSI.”
   Actually, the mathematics angle provides surprising drama. The way Charlie ultimately adjusts the equation to find the rapist proves that you need Charlie’s book smarts and Don’s street smarts to find a solution. Hey, maybe they should go on “The Apprentice.”
   “Numb3rs” doesn’t reinvent the copper genre. The dialogue isn’t overly stimulating, especially within the confines of the FBI building, where “L&O”-style jargon dominates.
   But it’s nice to see a crime drama that’s as comfortable at home as it is at work. There’s a wonderful warmth between Morrow, Hirsch and Krumholtz that promises to grow as the series progresses.

Quality of show (on a scale of 10): 7.5
   The actors are first rate. It’s as if CBS rounded up all your favorites from the TV past – Krumholtz from “Freaks and Geeks,” Morrow from “Northern Exposure,” Lloyd from “Sports Night,” Hirsch from “Taxi” and Peter MacNicol from “Ally McBeal.”
   Krumholtz stands out. He doesn’t have the traditional good looks of a leading man, which is refreshing, and he conveys the manic, nearly compulsive personality that makes Charlie such a great mathematician and a somewhat clumsy human being.
   MacNicol, who plays his mentor, inhabits another weird role, just as he did on “Ally,” but he brings a welcome eccentric flavor to “Numb3rs” that’s missing from “CSI” and its ilk.
   Though the plot isn’t all that imaginative--there's no big twist in the rape case--the mathematics provide a nice sidelight. You’re not expected to understand the equations, but you will understand the rationale behind them.
   It would be nice if the actors got dialogue with more pep than “Death is a permanent position,” but perhaps that's asking for too much of a cop show. Seeing Hirsch, Krumholtz and Morrow interact makes up for the stale talk.

Positioning (on a scale of 10): 3
   CBS can’t expect great things from any show it relegates to Fridays at 10, where “dr. vegas” died quickly last fall.
   The slot is even tougher now that NBC has the mild hit “Medical Investigation” there, which has averaged a 3.2 adults 18-49 rating. “Vegas” averaged a 2.1. Even a 2.5 might keep “Numb3rs” on the schedule.

Cachet, or the “Arrested Development” factor (on a scale of 10): 6
   Morrow is an old CBS favorite, having starred in the quirky drama “Northern Exposure” years ago, and Hirsch brings several Emmys and industry respect. Plus, movie director Ridley Scott (“Hannibal”) is one of the producers.
   Reviews have been good to medium. No one expects a big hit, but most predict a better performance than “vegas.”

Overall (on a scale of 30): 16.5
   Not worth staying home for on Friday, but probably worth recording on your TiVo.

The Media Life Meter
Rating this year’s new shows

 

“Numb3rs” (CBS)

Avg. for all 2004-’05 shows

Quality of show (on a scale of 10) – Grading the writing, acting, premise and creativity of the show. Is it any good?

7.5

5.8

Positioning (on a scale of 10) – Does the show have a tough time slot or a compatible lead-in? Is the subject matter appropriate to the network on which it airs?

3

4.8

Cachet, or the “Arrested Development” factor (on a scale of 10) – Examining the reviews, the star power and the prestige the network gets for the project. “Arrested,” for example, has high cachet for being well reviewed and intelligent, even though its ratings aren’t great.

6

4.5

TOTAL

16.5

15.1

Probability of Survival

 

30-27

Odds are this show will make it to next season.

26-22

Odds are this show will make it through this season.

21-15

Show may not survive the season.

15-9

Show will be canceled sometime this season.

8 or lower

Catch it while you can – this show may not make it to four episodes.

Source: Media Life


Jan. 20, 2005 © 2005 Media Life


- Toni Fitzgerald is a staff writer for Media Life.


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