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Despite plot twist, `Numb3rs' may soon be up
January 22, 2005
Another quick-paced, steely crime procedural, "Numb3rs"(premiering at approximately 9 p.m. Sunday on WBBM-Ch. 2, after the AFC championship game) is also a series with a twist, substituting math for the lab element of the "CSI" juggernaut.
FBI agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) has a brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math professor who's itching to play a role in his sibling's more glamorous, crime-fighting life.
Charlie gets his chance with the case of a serial killer by suggesting creation of a mathematical equation that might approximate the murderer's home base. Charlie gets the idea watching the spray of an ordinary garden hose: If he can mathematically reverse the various scenes of the crimes, as if reversing the droplets of the water, he can map in reverse where the killer lives.

The feds are highly confused by the very proposal and understandably skeptical. Reluctant brother Don, who has doubts of his own, falls into the unenviable position of making his brother's case while uncertain of it himself. As you might guess, Charlie's approach has its ups and downs, its false starts and mistakes, but ultimately he solves the crime.

When Don warns his brother that math won't help with all criminal investigations, Charlie gets to deliver the series mantra: "Everything," he says, "is numbers." Surreal illustrations of mathematical images and equations provide quick, visual inserts on this series the way microscopic scientific details fuel so many TV crime procedurals. The human drama, meanwhile, will clearly be the tug-of-war between Don's brawn and Charlie's brain, providing the ongoing object lesson that success in life takes both, as well as examples aplenty of the now-patented stubborn determination shared by the multitude of police investigators populating network TV.

That familiarity is a big problem. If this were the first crime procedural, hooray. Ironically, the title unintentionally raises the question of how many of these we'll have to endure before the crime lab cash cow runs dry. In addition, "Numb3rs" (whose regular time slot will be 9 p.m. Fridays) has its own dramatic problems. The pilot doesn't do a very good job of making Charlie's case. Not only confusing, the solution is somewhat contradictory, at least to us math novices out there. And the tricky mix of investigative detail and smidgen of human drama typical in these shows is not very well balanced here. The friction between brothers is almost too slight, and the family scenes (the boys' menschlike father is played by Judd Hirsch) are strangely and awkwardly staged, as well as half-baked. Hirsch, something of a TV icon, is largely wasted.

The series also, of course, is an important return for Morrow, such a compelling, quirky center on that ultra-eccentric TV classic "Northern Exposure." Alas, clearly in an effort to break his nerdy, quarrelsome image, here Morrow plays a macho, pithy Cro-Magnon, a brooding bully, a character constructed through an almost methodlike acting style. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast, including Krumholtz, engage in everyday realism. At times, Morrow seems not in the same family with Krumholtz and Hirsch, and at others not even in the same TV series. He's in a world of his own.

Things may well improve after the pilot -- the premise has promise, to be sure. The challenge for "Numb3rs" will be to keep viewers returning long enough for it to matter.

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