Despite what our math teachers tried to tell us in high school, very few of us really use anything but the most basic math in our day-to-day lives. We had more fun figuring out how to spell inappropriate words using numbers turned upside down on our calculators. So in that respect, it’s kind of daring for Numb3rs to base an entire series on a nerd who uses math to fight crimes. It’s not like anyone can actually relate to what the guy does; the last time I thought about logarithms, I was trying to describe a math-rock band of lumberjacks.
But despite the novel idea of centering a show about the FBI on an eccentric (when has that ever been done, ever?) Numb3rs (stupid uses of the number three all theirs), is really just a CBS crime show in the post-CSI landscape; a show with increasingly complex crimes that the characters are supposed to solve in the course of a 40-minute episode, while dealing with personal strife that ultimately has no consequences.
The fifth season of Numb3rs starts with uncertainty, as our hero, Charlie Eppes (played by the better than most of the material David David Krumholtz), has been stripped of his FBI clearance following an incident with Homeland Security. The first few episodes play with the idea of Charlie never going back to the FBI, but since the show is dependent on him for the central hook of the series, and because nothing truly exciting ever happens to any of the characters here, he’s back in the fold for the rest of the season.
By episode six or seven, things are back to how they always were: a conflict involving a serious crime is introduced (a new street drug hitting L.A., a train collision, a murder), the FBI tries to figure stuff out on their own, they decide they need Charlie, he comes in, leads a math discussion, solves the problem, mystery solved / crisis averted. With his help it’s basically the best crime-fighting unit in the history of civilization, even though at one point, when Don Eppes, Charlie’s brother (Rob Morrow), is fighting for Charlie’s clearance he says his unit only has a 85 percent clearance rate. We never, ever see the other 15 percent.
The math discussions are ostensibly the part of Numb3rs that sets it apart from other shows, and it does to an extent; you’ll likely never see a discussion of game theory on NCIS: Los Angeles. But the math portions always seem shoe-horned in, and are so short, that it’s unlikely anyone will actually learn any math from Numb3rs. Plus it gets downright annoying that every math portion is prefaced by one of the FBI agents saying, “I don’t understand (logarithms, addition, game theory, division)” without fail before each segment. We get it; Charlie is a math genius, we’re not, just nod your head as he explains it to us.
The only other thing you can rely on with every episode of Numb3rs is a treacly family discussion of the episode’s events at the end of each episode. While it’s nice to get Judd Hirsch, who plays Don and Charlie’s dad, involved, the show always seems at a struggle to do something, anything with him. In past seasons they had him become a student at Charlie’s university, and this year they have him coach a basketball team, for some reason, for a few episodes.
Numb3rs’s fifth season, probably it’s best, all things considered, is undone by the same thing that plagues all CBS crime show lineups: many episodes are centered around tension-filled scenarios involving the characters, all of whom will always escape just fine. This season of Numb3rs gives virtually every cast member their own episode of tumult, ranging from a kidnapping by a anti-technology cult (Charlie’s girlfriend), sleeping with a witness (one FBI agent), going deep undercover in a drug sting (another FBI agent) and nearly being blown up by a derailed train tanker (two other FBI agents). But there’s no real consequences in any scenario; each character continues the next episode like nothing happened, leaving all the storylines of the season as one-episode islands where the things that happen in each episode might hurt a character immediately, but won’t affect them afterward.
The fifth season comes packaged with a bevy of extras ranging from the okay (making of featurettes) to the unnecessary (cast commentaries). Which turns out to be exactly the same quality distribution of the episodes.