STARBURST takes a look at </SCORPION>, a US TV show that may well have passed you by but is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the likes of MR ROBOT and CSI…
Imagine if Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory had assembled his own version of The A-Team. Imagined it? Well, as flippant a comparison as that might be, it goes some way to offering a sense of what CBS show </SCORPION> is about. Instead of ex-Special Forces, each with their own individual, very specific set of skills, here we have a team of highly intelligent outsiders (and rather geeky outsiders at that), each with their own specific set of skills. Sound interesting? Well, in all honesty, it is, but there is also a curious background to the story, a background that follows the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction adage, and one which rather adds to the interest.
Walter O’Brien was born in County Wexford, Ireland in 1975. Growing up on a farm he attended the local school before continuing his education at the University of Sussex, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science and artificial intelligence. So far, so relatively normal. Except for one or two rather interesting ‘facts’. O’Brien claims to have an IQ of 197 - possibly the fourth highest ever recorded - and that aged just 13, he hacked into NASA under the pseudonym ‘Scorpion’; apparently, the teenager wanted to put blueprints of the space shuttle on his wall. He also claims that this led to his arrest by Homeland Security, but due to non-disclosure agreements signed at the time, cannot reveal anymore ‘facts’ about the event. Since then, he and Homeland Security have remained ‘in touch’, and O’Brien now runs Scorpion Computer Services, a think tank of geniuses.
Although this sounds very much like the standard preamble to a pilot show and too fantastical to be remotely true, and that may well be the case, O’Brien is very much a real person. He also stands firmly behind those claims to this day, although their validity is often questioned, and they remain unproven and unconfirmed. But, regardless of the legitimacy of the story, it does provide an intriguing basis upon which to produce a television show, and one that a few of Hollywood’s elite players including Alex Kurtzman (The Mummy, Star Trek), Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Beyond) and Roberto Orci (Transformers, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) decided to take on.
When transported into the sandbox world of television drama, O’Brien’s mythical background and history becomes fantastic stock material for writers, and compares favourably to anything in the Marvel or DC Universes; although in those worlds, O’Brien would undoubtedly be the villain, a genius gone bad. Here, however, he can be portrayed as the ‘nerd with a conscience’; a super-intelligent computer expert who, along with his equally eccentrically-natured friends, can offer assistance and help with problems no-one else in the world is equipped to deal with.
Taking on the lead role is Elyes Gabel, an actor who brings a necessary vulnerability to the character of O’Brien, while still retaining a little Sheldon-like disconnect with the larger world. Balancing that awkwardness is Homeland Security handler Cabe Gallo, played by former Terminator and fan favourite Robert Patrick. Patrick lends authority to the show, blending charismatic officialdom and fatherly protection with the experience of a film and television veteran. Jadyn Wong (Happy Quinn, mechanical engineer) and Ari Stidham (Sylvester Dodd, hyper-sensitive ‘human calculator’) add to the team, alongside American Pie alumnus Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch) as behaviourist Toby Curtis. Perhaps the most interesting character on the team, and one who joins following the pilot episode is Paige Dineen. Played by Katharine McPhee, Paige is the token ‘normal’ person in the group. Her purpose is to liaise with clients and, well, anyone who encounters the team, providing empathy and understanding in situations generally too emotionally fraught or real for them to handle. As such, she plays the layman to O’Brien’s genius, allowing the explanation of complicated problems, and the complex solutions to said problems, to be less expositional and patronising than they could have been.
So, with all these interesting elements thrown together, what is it about </SCORPION> as a show that makes it interesting?
Firstly, it’s in the realism. While most of us may not fully appreciate the daily tribulations of being a genius in our particular field - although here at STARBURST we do believe our readers rank in the higher echelons of the population - the characters remain likeably relatable. The quirks and foibles displayed may be exaggerated for dramatic effect, but behind them are normal people just trying to get along. Add to that a wit and humour often more akin to a sitcom than a drama, and you have a firm footing for the show.
Secondly, there’s the heightened realism. When the opening episode features a set piece in which a sports car is being driven along a runway at top speed while a passenger jet flies just thirty feet above, and the co-pilot is hanging on the undercarriage trying to pass an Ethernet cable to someone in the car who’s working a laptop, you know you’re in for some extreme scenarios. The remit of the Scorpion team is to protect the world from complex new threats that the ordinary authorities are unable to handle, and the showrunners have certainly run with that mantra. If we also add that Justin Lin, who’s helmed a couple of films in the Fast & Furious franchise, directed that episode, you know you’re in for something spectacular.
The interactions between the characters are also key to the show, and much of the credit must go to the actors. Reeling off line after line of complicated, equation-riddled rhetoric with charm and conviction is not an easy skill, but each one inhabits their character with an air of comfort and ease. You instantly accept that these are people, Paige and Gallo aside, who have lived and worked together for some time. At the head of that and their leader is Gabel; for the most part sympathetic to his cohorts, but also tough when necessary, he bonds the group and provides the focal point for their adventures together.
There are a lot of television shows available now, an awful lot, so choosing a new one to begin is often a tough decision. What </SCORPION> brings is genre-spanning entertainment; drama mixed with action, all warmly wrapped around characters you’ll actually care about within a very short space of time. This isn’t a show that can draw on the resources of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., tackle the tension of 24 or reproduce the wit and dialogue of Sherlock. But what </SCORPION> does is draw on the strengths of those three shows - and many others - combining them to produce a truly enjoyable series that challenges you not to be entertained. Groundbreaking it may not be, but </SCORPION> is a show that fills a gap, a show that never takes itself too seriously and one that carries you along for the ride, purely for the hell of it.
And remember, it actually might all be true…
</SCORPION> will premiere on CBS Action on November 22nd at 19:00, continuing every weekday. Sky 148, Virgin 192, Freeview 39, and Freesat 137.