At first feverish glance, Rob Morrow would seem even less at home in Los Angeles, playing FBI agent, than he was in Alaska, playing doctor. On Northern Exposure, at least we knew that Dr. Joel Fleischman was only visiting, and anxious to return to his nest of neuroses on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as soon as he paid back the loans that got him through medical school. But in Numb3rs, Don Eppes appears to have lived forever in L.A., with a brilliant brother (David Krumholtz), a fuzzy father (Judd Hirsch), a cutie-pie partner (Sabrina Lloyd), and his own apartment. How can this be? After Northern Exposure, it was easy to believe in motormouth Morrow as a mean investigator in Quiz Show and an ex-con who hated reporting to his probation officer on the Showtime series Street Time. It is not possible to imagine his taking the rays at Malibu. He belongs on a couch, not a beach.
But the L.A. in Numb3rs, like the L.A. in 24, is a state of mind instead of a location. We could be any urban where, with high tech, low crime, blank uneasiness, and time run out. In the premiere, a serial rapist has started murdering his victims, suffocating them with a plastic bag. As if Good Will Hunting were to domestic-partner with The Silence of the Lambs, Don (Morrow) teams up with math whiz Charlie. With technical help from a physicist friend (Peter MacNicol) and a data feed from older brother Don on buffer zones and ritualized behavior, Charlie develops a “scatter site” equation that should narrow down the killer’s whereabouts. When his equation fails to balance, is the math faulty, or is somebody lying?
Introducing too many characters, all of whom talk too fast, solving a series of brutal crimes in 45 frantic minutes, simultaneously playing around with abstract ideas of randomness, probability theory, supergravity, and crème brûlée—this first hour has too much on its mind to be altogether satisfying. We feel a little as if we’d been thrown out a window. Even so, we are defenestrated by a superb cast, including Anthony Heald as Don’s FBI boss and Navi Rawat as Charlie’s grad student. I’m hopeful, because crimetime TV needs all the help it can get to stave off recent woo-woo incursions by psychics (Medium) and Satan (Point Pleasant).
Still, don’t you miss Northern Exposure? Haven’t you wondered how come, with hundreds of channels, we get endless reruns of Matlock and nothing but radio silence out of Cicely, Alaska, a sort of Buddhist Macondo and Arctic Circle New School where Darwin, Freud, Trotsky, Einstein, Sontag, and Napoleon could be counted on to show up in the middle of a gay wedding or an Albigensian heresy, where high modernism and pop culture went ice fishing once a week, in the deep waters of an all-night deli, for madeleine cookies, pickles, and a rib?