Cool Things: Scorpion

It’s not often that I talk about TV shows on this blog, much less ones that are still in the airing. Scorpion only has a couple episodes under it’s belt so far and that makes talking about it meaningfully even more difficult. I still think it’s still worth your consideration.

The premise is that the Federal Government is building a special unit to deal with unique, highly sophisticated technological crimes. So far, so good. There’s been a lot of programs with that premise in the past, we live in an age of evolving information technology with an ever-greater impact on our lives and people are still grappling with the implications that has on their safety and security.

The thing about Scorpion is that it’s as much a comedy as it is a thriller. You see, four of the five main characters are certifiable geniuses with attendant impediments to proper social functioning. From the moment we see Walter O’Brien breaking up with his girlfriend and, in the process presenting her with a flowchart that will help her work through the emotions that she’ll be dealing with, we know that the people we’re about to meet are not normal.

Scorpion is a goofy mashup of 24 and The Big Bang Theory, chalk full of looming disasters, technobabble and humorous social awkwardness. But where 24 is all about the suspense and The Big Bang Theory celebrates geekiness with the nudge-nudge-wink-wink glee of an insider, Scorpion is more about how the brilliance of some minds leaves them isolated.

The heart and soul of Scorpion is less Walter and his quartet of geniuses. It’s not even Paige, their girl Friday, who is the social buffer they need to interact well with “normal” society. At least as far as I’ve seen, as of this writing, the heart of the show is Ralph, Paige’s son.

Walter first meets Ralph at the diner just after he breaks up with his girlfriend. Ralph has been suspended from school – and not for the first time from the sound of things – and has gone with his single mother to work. Walter sees him pushing objects around on the diner’s counter in a seemingly random fashion and he watches for a moment. Then he steps over and starts pushing salt shakers and creamer packets himself. After a few seconds Paige interrupts and Walter leaves, but not before telling her she needs to help her son. Walter could see what she missed.

Ralph was playing chess.

Paige thinks her son is slower than normal kids, handicapped in some way. On their next meeting, Walter is forced to tell her, “I’m sorry, but you’re son’s a genius.”

In our society we tend to think of people who are better than us at something as privileged and special. Scorpion is a TV show about how they’re also awkward and difficult. That doesn’t mean we can’t connect with them, but it’s going to take a lot of effort. Walter and his team are a larger than life portrait of why that’s worthwhile – thanks to a Homeland Security agent that realizes their potential they’re out to save the US one problem at a time.

But Ralph embodies Scorpion’s real message. Paige tells Walter her nail polish is streaky because Ralph likes to paint and he puts it on every morning. “He doesn’t like to paint,” Walter tells her. “He wants to hold your hand, but doesn’t know how to process physical contact.”

Even “mentally enabled” people like Ralph and Walter face a host of challenges just making it through the day. They need love, support and understanding just as much as the next person. Unfortunately, in today’s society there’s a tendency to say, “Oh, they’re smart, they can handle it” and leaving it at that. Scorpion makes a convincing case for the smart people we know very much needing the understanding and help of people who’s strengths lie in other areas.

Scorpion is still a new show, the cast isn’t entirely comfortable in their roles yet and there’s no telling if the writing will continue to be as strong and effectively character driven as the first couple of episodes, which are all I’ve seen as of this writing. But it promises to deal with a rarely addressed topic in an insightful, meaningful and entertaining way. And that makes it more than worthy of your attention.


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