Review: Numb3rs 5×1

The number's up


In the US: Fridays, 10pm ET/PT, CBS
In the UK: Five, Five US, ITV1 and ITV3 in some sort of rota system, some time next year

Think CBS and if you know your US networks, you’ll probably think ‘procedural’ immediately afterwards. If it’s not existing stalwarts like the entire CSI stable, NCIS and The Unit filling the airwaves, we’ve The Eleventh Hour and The Mentalist this season as well.

Then there’s Numb3rs, which seems to exist simply to add yet another procedural to the CBS body count – and to win family programming prizes. A sub-exciting series in which the FBI seem incapable of solving even the basic crimes without recourse to a genius mathematician and his nerdy friends, it’s been lurking on Friday nights for years and has now reached season five.

And I’m still watching it. I have no idea why.

The basic problem with Numb3rs, as I’ve punned before, is that it has a formula. Crime happens, FBI can’t work out what to do, they call in mathematician Charlie who talks absolute bollocks about maths for a bit, whizzes up a computer algorithm and points the FBI in the right direction, even though it shouldn’t have much of a chance of working. Having a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing: look at CSI, which you can sum up similarly, but through good acting, decent characterisation and imaginative plotting manages to transcend its formula.

But Numb3rs rarely does transcend its formula, and even when it does, pretty soon everything’s back to the status quo again in just a couple of episodes. It’s the ultimate non-serial drama other than those that include the words Law & Order in the title. Case in point: last season’s opener which, although a fine piece of tele, took all the good work done at the end of the third season and reset everything back to normal.

Last season’s finale looks set to be similarly undone this season, as predicted. The departure of Diane Lane, who won’t exactly be missed, has already been negated in clumsy style by the addition of an equally dull former LAPD officer with no discernible characteristics other than the ability to say how great she is. The other innovation was the near-incarceration of Charlie for sending ‘secrets’ to Pakistan, and the revocation of his security clearance. Will it surprise anyone that he doesn’t get locked up and that he’s pretty soon working on a case with the FBI?

Okay, so they’re playing it out a little bit, allowing the secondary characters to get a look in for a change. However, since they’re all ‘family programming’ characters, minimal depth is given to them. And the FBI crew still look a thick bunch of tossers. My guess: between one and three episodes before everything’s back to normal. It’s indicative of just how formulaic the show has become that the return of FBI sniper Ian, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, a breath of macho fresh air to the geeky heights of most Numb3rs episodes, is entirely wasted here. He might as well have been making the tea.

There are a few action scenes that are relatively well executed, and compared to how the FBI are portrayed in other shows, this is perilously close to something approaching reality. But for a season opener, this one was especially dull.

New arrivals will probably be bored stiff so shouldn’t bother tuning in while old hands might well be wondering what they’re doing tuning in still.

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, starting with this vid below, and there’s a promo for the second episode below that.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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