Bex takes a look at the recent R1 release of the first season of Numb3rs, a show that combines FBI criminal investigations with the world of maths and finds the two go surprisingly well together.
Numb3rs is more than just a criminal investigation series, although that does feature as the core of the action. At the heart of the show are the two Eppes brothers; Charlie and Don. Charlie (David Krumholtz) is a mathematical genius who has always been a stand-out because of his incredible abilities and is currently a professor at the prestigious CalSci University (based on CalTech), where he tutors students such as Amita Ramanujan (Ravi Nawat) and maintains friendships with other professors like Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol). Don (Rob Morrow) is a hard-working FBI agent, who has previously worked in the Fugitive Recovery Team and other areas before returning to LA because of his mother’s illness, and reconnecting with Charlie and their father Alan (Judd Hirsch) on his return to the big city. The three Eppes men are close-knit and are often found in Alan’s craftsman home, where he lives with Charlie. By contrast, I believe we only get to see Don’s bachelor apartment once in the entire series.
In the pilot episode, we learn that Charlie has acted as consultant on some of Don’s previous finance-related investigations, going over the numbers to look for areas that may need investigating. However, the applications of maths to every aspect of life quickly mean that Charlie gets involved in other types of cases (even ones focused on snipers, counterfeiting, etc.) and this is the basic premise of the show. It’s quite a lot more than just the ‘maths expert helps out the FBI’ conceit though, because it keeps some potential cheesiness at bay by making it blatantly obvious that Charlie isn’t helping out on every case, but only on select ones where his mathematical mind and applications can actually provide some assistance.
Also, the crime-solving may form the core of the action, but outside of that there is some really strong character development. The brothers’ yin-yang relationship works very well and the actors slip into their roles very naturally, with Don the brother who has always had to live with his younger brother’s prominent intelligence. Also there are Charlie’s colleagues at CalSci – the pretty thesis student Amita who has a close relationship to Charlie that can’t go any further because of college regulations and physicist Larry Fleinhardt who is Charlie’s closest friend. Both Larry and Amita get involved in the FBI cases as well, but as a periphery for Charlie to bounce ideas off of. They also help bring non-FBI elements into the storylines and provide some of the wider narrative context for the series.
The actors are all great in their roles and completely believable, especially Krumholtz, who has some real tongue-twisting to go through to get out the mathematical explanations at times. Morrow as well really manages to inject gravitas and action into his role as an FBI agent. It’s hard to find fault with any of the acting, and this undoubtedly helps the show not slip into pastiche. The guest stars also do a generally good job and include actors such as Neil Patrick Harris and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Numb3rs is a show about contrasts, most obviously the contrast between the gritty world of the FBI and the more ascetic world of academia… and that between Charlie and Don. For a first season, I didn’t feel that these contrasts were rammed down the viewers’ throats too much. Instead there was a generally smooth integration between them, with a reasonably believable motive for Charlie to be helping Don. In fact, in one episode we learn that Charlie has previously been acting as a consultant for the NSA and in fact has the higher security clearance of the pair, which helps to highlight he’s not just helping out because it’s his brother asking; he’s there because these agencies do legitimately ask professors to help in various situations and because maths does have applications to help law enforcement.
It does feel a little gimmicky at first, but as you get to know the characters, the strength of the writing starts to dampen that. I definitely liked that there was a good range of crimes, not just murders – that made it stand out a little from many crime shows that are currently around, and I also enjoyed hearing about the maths (which I found surprising). But for me the main strength of Numb3rs is the relationship of the characters and the development of these relationships over the series. I definitely look forward to series 2.
FBI Special Agent Don Eppes is working on a serial rapist/killer case when Charlie (his mathematical genius brother) gets involved. Charlie believes he can use an equation to identify the criminal’s point of origin and with few other leads, the FBI decide to take a look at this novel approach to crime-solving.
2: ‘Uncertainty Principle’
The city is being plagued by some non-violent bank robberies, and Charlie manages to predict where and when the gang will strike again. When Don and his backup team go to confront them, the discover a very well-prepared response much more violent than the original crimes would have suggested. A resulting shoot-out leaves Charlie upset and unwilling to get involved anymore, but Don’s team need Charlie back on side and must work to resolve his issues.
A strange disease affects seemingly random people in the LA area. Through fears of bioterrorism, the FBI and CDC need a mathematical consultant to try and work out the point of origin of the outbreak. Luckily, they both have Charlie Eppes down as someone to contact.
4: ‘Structural Corruption’
Charlie is feeling guilty over the apparent suicide of an engineering student at CalSci that had asked him for some mathematical help. Though Don maintains it’s not really an FBI issue, he gets involved to help his brother. Charlie examines the student’s thesis and uncovers some very interesting findings about a prominent piece of architecture.
5: ‘Prime Suspect’
A young girl is kidnapped from her own birthday party and it quickly becomes clear that the motive isn’t blackmail for money, but instead for the results to a seemingly impossible mathematical problem that the girl’s father has found. Charlie has to work with the father on the maths while Don tries to track down the kidnapping team. And they’re working against the statistical probability that the girl might already be dead.
A series of train wrecks are tied together by an undecipherable numerical code left at the site. Charlie is recruited to try and tackle it and is able to work out how and why the wrecks are occurring.
7: ‘Counterfeit Reality’
A missing woman is tied to a spate of counterfeit notes and Don’s team need to act to find the woman and workout who is behind the counterfeiting. Don’s ex-girlfriend is assigned to the case, so Charlie gets to learn a little more about his brother’s past.
8: ‘Identity Crisis’
When a man is found garrotted in his apartment, the crime resembles a previous case which the FBI believed was solved and the perpetrator in jail. This new case means re-opening the older case. Charlie is brought in to examine all the evidence to see if anything was missed.
9: ‘Sniper Zero’
A sniper brings panic to LA, randomly killing people. Don brings in Charlie, but also a sniper expert and the two spark off one another as the hunt for the sniper gets up steam.
10: ‘Dirty Bomb’
Radioactive material is stolen and the thieves threaten to release a dirty bomb if they aren’t paid $20 million. Don works on tracking the stolen material and the truck is was being kept in while Charlie attempts to predict the most likely location for a detonation that would inflict major damage.
When a researcher for a private think-tank is murdered in his home, it’s quickly discovered that data has been stolen from his computer. Charlie assists the FBI team by trying to learn more about the man’s research and reasons why someone would kill for it.
12: ‘Noisy Edge’
Don and an agent of the NTSB investigate accounts of a UFO over downtown LA, including photos of the object. Terrorism is again a fear for the agents, and Charlie is brought in to help try and work out what this UFO could have been.
13: ‘Man Hunt’
A prison bus crashes and a dangerous criminal escapes, a criminal with a big grudge against the witness who put him in jail. Don’s ex-partner in the Fugitive Recovery Division is sent over to assist in the hunt. Oh, and Charlie learns how to spell ‘anomaly’ (ok, not a major plot point but I’ve included it as the spelling error annoyed me from the pilot onwards).
The picture is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and is pretty good in terms of colours and natural quality. However, there are some issues with noticeable grain and softness, which doesn’t appear to be purely a stylistic touch. These defects are small though, and not seen throughout, so overall the picture quality is perfectly adequate without being stand-out in any area. Skin tones are natural throughout and I found the colour palette contrast between the cool of the FBI offices and the warmth and richness of the Eppes’ home very appealing.
The only sound option here is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it’s a good use of speakers, with a decent amount of directionality and nice use of the rear speakers for ambience especially. The only actual sound problem I found occurred in the penultimate episode where there were a couple of sound drop-outs, only momentary but quite noticeable nonetheless. There are no subtitles available on these episodes.
The extras package is fairly impressive here, starting with five episode commentaries throughout the season. They can be found on episodes ‘Pilot’, ‘Uncertainty Principle’, ‘Counterfeit Reality’, ‘Sniper Zero’ and ’Dirty Bomb’ and they feature a variety of the people involved in making the show. The tracks were all interesting to listen to and managed to combine information and humour well. Krumholtz especially shows himself to have a great sense of humour, and it’s also fair to say that everyone involved obviously has a great fondness for one another and for the show. Although five commentaries is quite a lot more than I’m used to seeing from a thirteen episode series, I definitely enjoyed listening to each one.
The final disc of the set holds the rest of the special features. The most interesting for me was a look at the unaired pilot, because that’s the kind of thing I don’t get to see or hear about all that often – especially not on official releases of shows. You can definitely see why this was eventually rejected in favour of the actual pilot, and kudos to the TV station for allowing a remake. The next meatiest extra is a twenty-minute featurette called ‘Crunching the Numb3rs’. It’s more or less a standard promotional piece with short comments from those involved about the history, background and making of the show, but it’s slightly less glossy and more informative than many and as such comes across as a nice, concise watch which is well put-together.
There are some audition reels of David Krumholtz and Navi Rawat, with optional commentary from the casting director Peter Saks. They’re interesting, especially to see from the early roots how the character interpretations evolved, but they also bear out the casting process, as both actors do seem to fit the roles from a very early stage and the commentary highlights exactly what areas were being examined and why the actors won the roles. In addition there is the inclusion of the beloved blooper reel which is amusing at times, and worth including because we get to see the actors with their guards down, especially when filming some fairly serious moments.
I enjoyed Do the Math, a shortish clip of a lecture by the Caltech professor who acted as maths consultant for the show. In it, he shows his favourite clips to an audience and explains a little more about the show and helps to give an insight on the closeness between consultant and the programme makers and actors. He lavishes praise of Krumholtz elsewhere in the extras for his ability to manage all the maths talk, and the audience seem quite appreciative of the show clips in this segment.
The final extra concerns Charlievision, which the show’s creators used to try and illustrate how Charlie might be looking at the world, or at a problem through overlaid equations and calculations. This extra puts together the Charlievision sequences, where I would have rather had some of them explained in more detail. Of all the extras, it’s probably the one I’d miss the least, because it’s just not the sort of thing I enjoy seeing divorced from the original material, but for purists it does round-off the extras offering here.
Numb3rs may not have had a very high-profile showing in the UK, but I’d definitely recommend it as one to keep an eye out for if you like strong characters and an element of crime-solving in your television shows. This DVD release mixes good transfers of the episodes with a nicely rounded set of extras and does a very solid job of showing off the series well.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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