I remember watching this show when it originally aired more rather out of a sense of duty, since it stars a mathematician showing how cool and interesting maths can be in the real world and not some useless thing you learned in High School and promptly forgot. As a mathematician myself, that seemed to be something I had to support in principle.
Trouble was, the show was always being punted around the TV networks and aired at different times, most of them inconvenient. I think I started to resent the effort of trying to follow it. I also had trouble with the casting of Rob Morrow as a gung-ho FBI agent so soon after his convincing turn as the wimpy, neurotic small town doctor in Northern Exposure. And overall if I’m honest, the show’s balance between the nerdy maths and the kick-ass militaristic FBI raids just felt off to me.
The show ended its run three years ago and is now on reruns in the UK on the Universal channel, allowing me the opportunity to catch up on episodes without the sense of duty to having to catch them all, which in turn means it’s possible to evaluate and indeed enjoy them more clearly than perhaps it was at the time. And as a result I’m coming to genuinely appreciate how good the show actually was.
The main strength of the series is the relationship between the two brothers, Morrow as FBI agent Don Epps and David Krumholtz as his maths genius brother Charlie who brings his skills to criminal investigations. The sibling dynamic actually becomes one of the best things about the show in re-watch, and is helped immeasurably by the warm presence of Judd Hirsh as their father.
Yes, sometimes the maths is pile-drived into the plot with a clear lack of subtly, but that’s often the case with any show having to churn out 20 episodes a season; it’s not done badly and it really the best you can hope for in a production line situation. And the show does suffer from a strange large amount of regular cast turnover over the six seasons, which leaves what should be some important supporting parts ending up rather anonymous.
But at its core – the story of the brothers Epps and its clear love of showing how mathematics can be and indeed is as cool as all the FBI combat weapons – the show is still a surprising delight, more so than I’d given it credit for at the time, and one that I’m enjoying reconnecting with now.
Numb3rs airs at 6pm on the Universal channel on weekdays (repeated at other times during the day.) The complete series is also available on DVD as both individual season boxsets and as one complete boxset.