In the US: Fridays, 10pm et/pt, CBS
In the UK: One of the ITVs at a point determined by some stochastic process
Characters re-cast: 0
Major characters gotten rid of: -1
Major new characters: 0
Format change percentage: 0%
Beards grown: 2
What a difference a decent director and script make. As I have remarked before, Numb3rs is often quite a formulaic show. When it’s good, it’s very good; but most of the time, it’s just average – not utterly dumb, just mundane and unsurprising.
This season opener carries on directly, in terms of plot rather than chronologically, from the third season’s finale, in which Dylon Bruno’s hardcore ex-army FBI agent was revealed to be an agent for the Chinese. It was surprisingly surprising for Numb3rs, not least because it was written by the usually rubbish Ken Sanzel.
Although it soon becomes clear that yes, a magic reset button will probably reverse that one innovation the show has produced, the episode does have two even more surprising surprises: firstly, Ken Sanzel can write really good scripts – he’s even getting the hang of this maths thing to the extent that it’s actually relevant, rather than slammed in with a crowbar; secondly, exec producer Tony Scott, who’s been sitting on his hands doing not much to earn that title for three seasons, has finally gotten off his backside to direct this episode, the first time he’s directed an episode of a television show.
In true Tony Scott style, he’s brought along one of his favourite actors, Val Kilmer, who’s busily resurrecting his acting career after a long time in the wilderness. Before even a minute’s gone by, it’s clear that whatever you think of Scott as a film director with his somewhat bombastic style, as a television director he’s really first rate. Taken together, the script and direction turn this Numb3rs episode in something pretty good.
I don’t want to overpraise it, since there are the usual points in Numb3rs where Charlie, having spent ages with a supercomputer running an algorithm, announces something that was blindingly obvious through the normal application of brainpower, couldn’t be worked out using maths or the initial parameters he’s chosen, or which would never work in the real world. There are also points where you can tell that Sanzel is struggling to find things for everybody to do, just so that everyone remembers who the characters are. And there are some relatively ridiculous points of characterisation forced on it by developments last season.
But the script allows time to give the characters some room to breath, with Charlie getting a chance to teach and spend time with Amita, for example. The direction is studded with the usual Tony Scott motifs – handheld cameras, tight close-ups and rapid cuts – and makes everything more tense, more intimate and just more exciting. And Kilmer makes a suitably frightening villain, even if he needs to go back to pre-med to check out sodium pentathol.
It’s just head and shoulders above the normal Numb3rs fare.
I’m pretty sure it won’t last and things will no doubt be back to normal within a couple of episodes. But if you’re going to watch one episode of Numb3rs, new viewer or old viewer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one.