Sunday, September 28, 2014

SCORPION: "Pilot" and Stopping the Ticking Clock...

I went into the SCORPION pilot with trepidation, given that what little I'd read about the upcoming series was negative with biases against the concept, the performance of Katharine McPhee, etc. 

Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this pilot appeared to be hitting all the right marks as it began. 

The character introductions were well-done -- not too fast, not completely trite.

The episode plot was fresh enough and structured well -- although it wasn't completely believable. 

And the conclusion was open-ended enough to allow for all sorts of story possibilities -- a refreshing change, given all the murder-solving drama series currently on the air.

Unfortunately, the episode revealed two major, interrelated storytelling issues that (if not corrected in future episodes) will destroy this fledgling series.

And both of these issues are directly related to the stopping of the ticking clock that should be driving the drama.

To sum up the story in brief, misfit genius Walter O'Brien (played by Elyes Gabel) is stuck working rinky-dink tech jobs because he and his team of fellow misfit geniuses don't have the people skills to get their think tank company off the ground.

While on one such job, Walter meets waitress Paige (played by McPhee) and informs her that her troubled son is having difficulties because he too is a genius. 

Enter Agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) who recruits Walter and his team to help restore corrupted software at LAX and other local airports which is preventing 50+ planes from landing.

Okay, so the plot is basically DIE HARD 2 without the terrorists, but it's fresh enough for television. In any case, the script problems here aren't with what the story is, it's in how it's being told.

First off, the story unfolds in such a way that on several occasions the geniuses have just minutes -- make that seconds -- to get various locations throughout L.A. in order to get a hold of an uncorrupted copy of the control tower software.

And having dealt with L.A. traffic myself on more occasions than I can remember, that's definitely a major ticking clock.

Unfortunately, they then stop the ticking clock to have several lengthy discussions that had me wanting to shout "now is not the time!" at the screen more than once.

For example, at one point they've got to get to an airfield that's 20 minutes away in 10 minutes, so they come up with a plan to change all the lights green along the route. Unfortunately, the only driver option available is waitress Paige (of course).

SO, then genius Walter (who has already said that he could be okay with the loss of life if a few planes end up crashing before they can fix the issue), tries to talk Paige out of driving him because it might be dangerous and her son needs her. 

Although I agree with the idea behind the story beat there (the reluctant hero, self-doubt, etc.), the dialogue exchange belies what we've just been told to expect from this character. Had Paige or Agent Gallo expressed that doubt there, it would've made more sense, but I digress...

What's really at issue is that the story has established a ticking clock with SUCH tight restrictions that these lengthy discussions (which happen several times throughout the script) play like moronic time wasters that pull you out of the story.

Okay, so I get it, we need these moments, otherwise there'd be no story, just a bunch of action strung together performed by characters we don't care about. But my issue is with how these moments were handled. 

Simply adding a few extra minutes to the ticking clock could've fixed this problem. Instead of saying "we've only got 7 seconds!" why not 30, or a minute? That way we still feel the urgency of the ticking clock and the audience doesn't lose its suspension of disbelief. 

Numerous times throughout the episode I found myself checking the clock and thinking: 'This dialogue has already been longer than the amount of time they said they had.'

The other issue is that these dialogue sections were too on the nose. They had no subtext. But I'm willing to contribute that to the difficulty of the challenges faced by every pilot -- that of cramming so many characters and a compelling plot all into one episode.

If this issue continues, I'll get into that then.

So, all in all, despite the minor incredulity issues I had with a handful of the more outlandish story elements (such as establishing a wired ethernet connection between a car and plane both traveling at 200+ m.p.h., and the length of time those scenes took), I am willing to give this series a second shot.

If future episodes can strike the right balance between nerdy fun and government intrigue, there's hope for it to become an enjoyable series that's BIG BANG THEORY meets 24.

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