Spotlight on … Numb3rs

So, while recently flailing about on my bed of pain, I rewatched one of my favourite tv series. Thank God for dvds, eh? It’s been off the air for a while now, and perhaps some of you never watched it. So allow me to share with you my love for the Ridley and Tony Scott produced crime show Numb3rs.

It’s actually a bit funny, me loving this show, because even the smallest hint of a mathematical equation brings me out in hives. Do you know the classic film Stand and Deliver? Starring the incomparable Edward James Olmos, and based on a true story, it’s about an inner city US high school teacher who inspires his disadvantaged students to excel in their classwork. Lou Diamond Phillips is in it too, and he has a moment in the film that has stuck with me ever since I saw it. Coming into the classroom he sees an equation on the board, and is told it’s part of a calculus problem. He sneers and says: ‘What is this thing calcoolis?

Think of me as Lou Diamond Phillips. *g*

On the other hand, I love crime and mystery stories in all their wonderful stripes and colours. Plus I’m a huge fan of the Scott brothers and their work. So when this show came on the air I gave it a go and quickly fell in love with it.

The premise is elegant in its simplicity: Don Eppes is a successful law enforcement professional, recently transferred into the FBI. His younger brother, Charlie, is a mathematical genius. Their father, Alan, is a retired city planner. Alan’s wife, the boys’ mother, has not so long ago passed from cancer. Charlie still lives at home with Alan while lecturing in math at a local university, and while Don has his own place he spends a lot of time at the family home. All three men are romantically unattached.

Stumped by a difficult case, Don asks Charlie to help him out with some math – and an odd couple working partnership is born. Although the unifying factor is crime and using maths to solve it, the bedrock of Numb3rs is family: the Eppes family, Charlie’s created math family, Don’s created FBI family, and all the complications and love and personal stuff that implies. This is one of the most character-driven crime shows you’ll find – the diametric opposite to something like Law & Order. Both Charlie and Don struggle with their lives, and each other, coming to know each other as men after quite a long time apart. And Alan struggles with the challenges of being a father to such different yet phenomenally gifted sons.

The writing across the board in this series is excellent. Ditto the performances. It’s really lovely and refreshing to see a family of three guys portrayed in such an honest and positive way. Alan is a great father – and after years of tedious tv portrayals of fathers who are hapless, hopeless, henpecked and incompetent, its brilliant to see such a loving, caring, smart man portrayed so beautifully by Judd Hirsch. I have to wonder how much the dynamic between the Scott brothers helped to inform the onscreen Eppes brothers and their complicated, sometimes tense but always at heart loving bond.

Special credit to the entire production for the show’s wonderful portrayal of women. Be they scientists or law enforcement, the women of Numb3rs are intelligent, capable, courageous and human. They are not sexualised or trivialised and they are surrounded by men who see them as people first, women second. I think hands down Numb3rs is one of the best shows ever created when it comes to gender issues – and diversity representation.

This is a smart show about smart people doing brave things for the greater good. It’s great entertainment, thought-provoking and heart-warming and wonderfully different. The entire series is available on dvd and best of all, it reaches a proper conclusion in the last episode. It works with gentle story arcs that build and follow through from beginning to end, not hugely episodic but not bluntly self-contained either. The characters go on journeys and have their resolutions and nothing feels clumsily handled, at least not to me.

So if you’ve never watched it and you’re looking for something new to watch, I’d highly recommend Numb3rs.


2 thoughts on “Spotlight on … Numb3rs

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