In the crime drama Numb3rs, ”Numbers are everywhere,” avows math genius Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz). They’re hidden in the speed of the high-tech soapbox car he races, as well as his dad’s (Judd Hirsch) sprinkler system, whose water velocity he can gauge at a glance. They’ve even wiggled their way into the show’s title logo, Numb3rs — which owes its design to that spookiest of digits, Se7en.
Charlie and his beautiful mind find yet another outlet in the FBI work of his brother Don, played by Northern Exposure’s Rob Morrow with full CSI-inspired stoicism. In the pilot, Charlie’s gift for translating human behavior into a row of tidy figures is employed to capture a serial rapist-murderer. Unfortunately, the whiz-kid factor is the only new angle here, given our deep steeping in serial-killer lore. In 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster’s FBI agent described the murderer she was chasing: ”He’ll never stop…he’s got a real taste for it now.” The observation was unnerving then. Now it’s odd, conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, the show trots out not only Silence’s creepy asylum shrink, Anthony Heald, as Don’s boss, but all the old saws (”Death is permanent possession”).
Fortunately, Don’s work includes all varieties of crime fighting, which may lead to more original showcasing of the series’ nifty hook. Math might not seem the sexiest way to enliven a story. But that’s the sneaky smarts of this show, executive-produced by film directors Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Tony Scott (Man on Fire), who know how to dust off old genres. (Guiding a series about two brothers, one of whom is more brazenly gifted than the other, must also spark some snappy conversations between the siblings Scott.) By making Numb3rs’ investigative ringer a math genius, the show will no doubt dazzle the three fourths of us who shudder at the word calculus (shudder). Charlie spins out gorgeous squiggles of logic, and who are we to say they’re not brilliant, when we’re repeatedly assured otherwise? Numb3rs’ intricate formulas lend the series a cachet: how wonderfully guilt-free to invest in a show about serious math.