Now that TV has made math sexy, Judge Cynthia Boris what's next: hot crime-solving property surveyors?
Our reviews of Numb3rs: The Second Season (published November 1st, 2006), Numb3rs: The Fifth Season (published December 3rd, 2009), Numb3rs: The Sixth Season (published August 12th, 2010), and Numb3rs: The Third Season (published September 26th, 2007) are also available.
"We all use math every day."—Charlie, in the opening title sequence
Buffy's Giles did it for librarians. C.S.I.'s Gil Grissom did it for scientists. They turned geeky into sexy, and now Charlie Eppes is doing the same for mathematicians everywhere. That's right: In case you didn't get the memo, math is now cool. They say so every week on Numb3rs, the TV series that has people asking the question, "How many plots can there possibility be that involve math?" Well, 37 and counting, since the series is about to begin its third season in the fall of 2006. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It's Numb3rs: The Complete First Season.
Facts of the Case
AKA Charlie's POV
Don Eppes (Rob Morrow, Northern Exposure) is a Los Angeles–based FBI agent. He's tough, he's dedicated, he's levelheaded, and he's good at what he does. Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz, The Santa Clause 2, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) is Don's younger but smarter (educationally speaking) brother. Charlie is a certified genius, one of those kids who went to high school when he was ten. Today Charlie is a brilliant mathematician and college professor, a man who has a much better understanding of academia than he does of the real world. Now, after years of a somewhat strained and tentative relationship, Charlie is teaching Don mathematical applications for crime solving, and Don is teaching Charlie about human applications for dealing with the world. Toss in the Eppes patriarch, Alan (Judd Hirsch, Taxi); Charlie's mentor, Larry (Peter MacNicol, Ally McBeal); the lovely teaching assistant, Amita (Navi Rawat); and Don's FBI crew; and it all adds up to one exciting and often poignant crime drama.
AKA Don's POV
On the surface, Numb3rs appears to be just another police procedural series—in this case, untold stories of the FBI. But take another look and you'll see that the series is more about the characters and less about the crime—and that's the joy of Numb3rs.
The backstory tells us that Charlie and Don's mother died of cancer some years earlier. How the boys coped (or didn't) with their mother's lengthy illness is an emotional character point that pops up now and again. Charlie still lives with his father, Alan, and although Don does have his own apartment, he's more often found at the family home at the dinner table or in front of the TV. The house, a gorgeous 1909 California Craftsman, does much to set the tone of the series. It's warm and rich and masculine, an intentional contrast to the cold blue-and-white tones that are used for the FBI office and crime scenes. And contrast is what the show is all about.
Series creators Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci built the series as a sort of yin and yang of the worlds of Don and Charlie. Don spends his life dealing with death, violence, brutality, reality. Charlie lives in the world of academia with its rules and ivory towers and bright young minds. The series uses color, lighting, and intricate on-screen graphical displays to sharpen that contrast. The look is a huge part of what makes Numb3rs a hit, but it's nearly impossible to explain on paper. Watch the show. Watch the special features that deal with this subject, and you'll find yourself going, "wow, they meant to do that?"
Now let's talk math. I suck at math. I'm the worst, but this series makes me feel smart. Here's how. Each week, Charlie comes up with one or two mathematical theories that can be used to help Don solve his crime. While his theories are incredibly complicated, they're delivered to the audience with a montage of images they like to call Charlievision. This vision takes a complicated equation and turns it into a form that a layman can understand, such as the spray pattern of a sprinkler or the movement of fish in a pond. As Charlie simplifies his theories for Don and his FBI agents, the audience gets it, too.
How many plots are there involving math? Check out the first thirteen, which make up this DVD set.
• "Uncertainty Principle": In what is likely the best episode ever, Charlie uses equations to determine where a band of bank robbers will strike next.
• "Vector": Math is used to track the source of a deadly virus.
• "Structural Corruption": A brilliant mathematician dies. Was it murder or suicide?
• "Sabotage": A note left at the site of a train wreck may really be a mathematically coded message.
• "Counterfeit Reality": Charlie uses his skills to help find a counterfeiter.
• "Identity Crisis": Don asks Charlie to apply his skills to an old case to see if the wrong man was sent to prison.
• "Dirty Bomb": Charlie uses his math skills to try to find the likeliest spot for a bomb detonation.
• "Sacrifice": Classified government information is stolen from a computer, and Charlie uses his skills to track it down.
• "Noisy Edge": The math of aerodynamics figures into this case of a missing engineer.
Let's turn our critical eye to the packaging of this DVD set. In a word—Numero Uno. A trifold digipack holds four DVDs. The overall design makes great use of the show's signature green grids and formula scribblings. The digipak slides into a plastic slipcase completing the cover shot of Don and Charlie. All very high-tech looking, and how appropriate is that.
The color and sound are both the kind of quality you would expect from a new series. Numb3rs is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs, and it has Dolby Digital sound. I found the commentaries to be very informative and fun to listen to. Much to my surprise, it's Krumholtz who cracks most of the jokes, and his sarcastic sense of humor really tickled me. The featurettes are also very interesting, dealing mostly with the design of the show and the casting. The most fascinating thing was the look at the original pilot, with Krumholtz playing against a different Don and Dad. Granted, we have the advantage of hindsight, but the first pilot is so obviously lacking! Kudos to CBS for allowing them to come back for a second try.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
AKA Larry's POV
Even more socially challenged than young Charlie, Larry has a unique view of the world. He plays devil's advocate to Charlie's ideas and often points out that there are two sides to every argument. Carrying on in that vein, there's a definite downside to having a mathematician as your lead character, and that is the need to involve him in every crime. Let's face it, using math to track criminals is a clever idea, but sometimes the series is too clever for its own good. There are episodes where I want to say, oh come on, that's stretching it a bit far. Worse, there are episodes where Charlie seems to know more about crime detection than the top agents of the FBI. It's because of this, I believe, that "Sniper Zero" was written. In this episode, the sniper expert teaches Charlie that although math is good, you have to take the human element into account to really get a clear picture of the crime.
Frankly, at this point, I'm so attached to the characters that I don't need to see Charlie actively involved in solving the case in every episode. I'd be happy to see him in a more family-oriented, less crime-oriented story line for an episode or two, as that's what really keeps me tuning in week after week.
AKA Alan's POV
Yes, there's murder. Yes, there's violence and crime, but if that were all there was, Numb3rs wouldn't have made it past this first season. It's really a show about family. About brothers. About how the life we lived as children seems so different when we're adults. What it's really about is humanity, which is ironic since the show appears to be about science and math. It's a great cast. It's clever writing. It's tense, exciting, and often quite touching. Most of all, it's a show you can count on to be good TV from the first episode to the last.
The court would like to make a ruling on Numb3rs: The Complete First Season, but the scientific evidence submitted by the defense is too complicated to be understood. The judge asks that all evidence be resubmitted in Charlievision, after which the court will make its decision.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentaries on Five Episodes by Co-creators/Co-executive Producers Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci, and Others
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