I’ll admit that I occasionally will review a work on this site that is in no way, shape, or form, part of the science fiction or fantasy genres. But if I do choose to review such a work, it’s only because I think it has merits that SF&F writers should take notice of and ideally apply to their own craft.
So let’s get right into the CBS police procedural called Numb3rs.
The show is focused on two brothers. The older brother, Don Eppes (played by Rob Murrow), is an FBI agent in Los Angeles who spends all his time on the job and handling difficult cases related to such crimes as murder, rape, terrorism, and kidnapping. His younger brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), is a brilliant mathematician who finds that he can use his skills as an analyst to create models that help the FBI figure out the goals and identities of their suspects. And keeping these two prodigies grounded in the real world is their father Alan (Judd Hirsch) and family friend Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol).
First, let’s talk about the basic format of the show. It’s a standard crime drama, much like Law & Order or CSI. However, mathematics plays an important role throughout this process, as Charlie has to use probability and statistical analysis to weed out all the dead ends and give the FBI the most likely suspects to have committed such crimes. Of course, in true Holmesian fashion, his brother Don has to be an audience surrogate and ask Charlie to explain his mathematics, which he does through impressive analogies that the show’s crew develops into beautiful background imagery. In this regard, he’s a lot like other exotic detectives like the main character in Monk or Shawn Spencer in Psych, who use their heightened awareness to see what the authorities can’t.
The second great element about this show is that the characters are all pretty well-developed. At the heart of the story is the Eppes family. Don is always looking out for his brother and father, particularly after his mother’s death a few years prior. Charlie walks his own emotional tightrope, doing analysis for an agency where mistakes usually mean death and other catastrophes, as well as trying to balance his brilliance with his own social ineptitude. However, he proves to do better with the latter through his budding romance with grad student Anita Ramanujan (Navi Rawat). As the boys’ father, Alan tries to provide good advice about relationships and family, even as they do their part to make the world a better place.
The point I want to make about this show is that it simultaneously gets an accurate use of mathematics and a good portrayal of mathematicians, while still being able to deliver a solid story and sympathetic cast. It does for math what CSI has done for science, and with that kind of background, it’s my hope that Numb3rs will inspire some really good sci-fi writing in the near-future.
Bibliography: Numb3rs. Created by Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. CBS Television Studios. January 23, 2005 – March 12, 2010.