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We All Use Math Everyday

May 16, 2008

While Katie and I don’t have cable, I use iTunes to keep abreast of a handful of television shows. Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, and the CBS drama Numb3rs all fall into this category. I’ve been hitting the Numb3rs pretty hard recently, which may be slightly surprising if you recall my (now ancient) post railing against the show for geek stereotyping.

A lot can happen in two years, and has. The show’s writing has gotten much, much better. It’s no longer the zany “an FBI agent and his math prof brother solves crime!” Now, the show is mostly about character interaction and ongoing plot threads. None of these threads are story-centric, they’re all character-centric. Ameda’s family, Charlie’s book deal, Larry’s ongoing search for peace and tranquility, and Don’s love life – they’re all threads that bind a pretty darn good show together.

What’s especially interesting is how they’ve started catering to the nerd nation. The second season episode “Dark Matter” was pretty much tripe. I’m not as harsh on it now as I was two years ago, because ultimately the FPS clan (which they mislabel as a MMOG guild) in the episode had nothing to do with the violence in the show.  The clan members were duped by an outside source. The real problem with that episode is that that’s never explicitly spelled out at the end of the show; you need to go back and put that statement in your head with the facts of the case.

This fourth season is not only generally very friendly to nerd culture, it’s featured two very specifically nerd-oriented episodes. “Primacy” is entirely about an MMO/ARG, and a million-dollar prize competition stemming directly from gaming culture. Though it’s definitely not one of the stronger episodes this season, it’s fairly well written and treats the subject matter at hand with a certain amount of reverence. I fully detailed thoughts on the episode just a week or so after I started writing for Massively. The other nerd-happy episode this season was “Graphic”. Featuring guest appearances by Christopher Lloyd and Wil Wheaton, it’s all about the theft of a very rare comic book. The comics convention they constructed out of whole cloth for the episode is detailed, vibrant, and very authentic-looking.

Cultural relevance aside, I’m just generally enjoying the show. The show’s nature is so gimmicky that after first season I was sure it was doomed. And yet, with significant retooling and an apparent bravery in the face of change, the cast and crew shoulders on. It’s CBS too, right, so they have ‘morals’ in a lot of episodes. I don’t even mind. They’re usually done with a lot of tact, and the dialogue surrounding the “More You Know” moments are generally pretty good.

Good show. Check it out; you can catch the last few episodes for free on CBS’ website.

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