“Numb3rs” Review

People lie. Numbers don’t.

ITV3 has picked up Numb3rs and the first episode went out tonight. To a mathematician and a fan US crime dramas Law and Order and NYPD Blue this is a dream scenario: a mathematician helps the FBI solve crimes by forming a solving equations (as we do).

Portrayals of mathematicians on screen (such as Will Hunting) tend to take the form of an irritating cliched troubled geniuses. Certainly there’s a lot of nonsense talked in Numb3rs, with some jabbering about super gravity theories and such from absent minded mathematicians (“I thought I had the wrong time. Or place. Or possibly even dimension”) and phrases like “I estimate an 87% chance he lives in this area.” A clumsy comment on simple probability when someone is “due” a break reminds how much better Fleming put the same point (“the cards have no memory” Bond reminds himself, playing Le Chiffre in Casino Royale). But happily the our hero is pretty chilled as mathematicians go. He doesn’t seem troubled, and he’s not unduly concerned with becoming a genius.

It’s not too adventurous, as crime drama goes, borrowing from its successful peers, but where CSI shows close ups of bullets ripping into organs, Numb3rs shows crime scenes reduced to equations. On the other hand, it’s slick and entertaining, far less gory than CSI, and puts across a few nice ideas (a serial killer tries to make the locations of his crimes random: “He tried to avoid a pattern. He wound up with one anyway?”). And if that’s not enough, Numb3rs features Sport’s Night‘s lovely Sabrina Lloyd. That’ll keep me happy.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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