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TV Series Review

Any teen who has sat through high school algebra has asked the question, Will I ever use this in real life? CBS’ crime drama Numb3rs , produced by Tony and Ridley Scott (Top Gun and Gladiator, respectively), answers it. “We all use math every day to forecast weather, to tell time, to handle money,” the show’s introduction explains. “We also use math to analyze crime, reveal patterns, predict behavior. Using numbers, we can solve the biggest mysteries we know.”

Their argument? Math isn’t only useful, it’s necessary—and cool. You won’t find geeks wearing pocket protectors on this show. Instead it features a chic, down-to-earth genius who applies his extraordinary intellect to the solution of murder mysteries, prevention of international espionage and containment of catastrophic bioterrorism. Charlie Epps (David Krumholtz) is a young math professor at a Cal-Tech look-alike. His older brother, Don (Rob Morrow), heads up an FBI team that borrows Charlie’s talents whenever it gets stumped. Put them together and you’ve got street-smart agents literally being schooled (whiteboard and all) on how to trace a serial killer. Or more accurately, how to calculate the odds of finding him in a specific place.

Other crime dramas rely on forensics or clues from the great beyond. This show uses formulas and equations, turning crime scenes into classrooms. An episode involving Internet hackers targeting the Federal Reserve showed how online transactions are secured by using massive, random prime numbers. The crooks were after an algorithm able to crack the Web encryptions, forcing Charlie to outsmart the thieves. That case actually happened. In fact, most of the crimes and unique solutions feeding the show’s stories are reportedly rooted in reality.

Beyond enhancing the hip factor of advanced mathematics, this new series also portrays a healthy, loving family. Though Charlie and Don have their differences, they respect and care for each other, and look after their widowed dad (Judd Hirsch) who provides some of the show’s lighter moments.

Unfortunately, the series follows what has become standard practice in this genre: getting up-close and personal with violent action and homicide’s gritty aftermath. An episode included images of a rape victim tied up and struggling to breathe with a plastic bag over her head. Another gave detailed instructions on how to properly slit a throat. Such content makes Numb3rs a dicey proposition for the very adolescents who would benefit from its heroic portrayal of math.

Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 23, 28, Feb. 4, 11, 18, 2005

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Marcus Yoars

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