Saturday, December 31, 2005

It Ain't "Deuteronomy"

On to lighter topics. I’ve figured out why I don’t like “Numbers” more. Oops, let me spell it the way they do in the credits: "Numb3rs." Already intrigued, aren'tcha?

The show, Friday nights at 10 on CBS, has a lot to like about it—great cast, Rob Morrow, David Krumholtz, Judd Hirsch, and inventive use of math. “Numb3rs” is “Law and Order” meets “Judging Amy.” Or “My Three Sons” meets “Judd for the Defense.” Rob Morrow’s the FBI Special Agent (aren’t they all special?) whose brother, Krumholtz is a math professor. His math helps the FBI solves crimes. And then there’s their lovable dad, Judd Hirsch, who isn’t above telling these fellas a thing or two. What fun. And it’s all from hitmakers Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Blade Runner,”) and his brother Tony Scott (“Days of Thunder,” “Beverly Hills Cop II”) !!!

It’s a nice premise, and they even have a teacher’s guide, to use episodes of the show to show kids some pretty advanced mathematical ideas.

Tonight, though, on an episode called “Bettor or Worse,” (already clever, right?) I figured out why I just can’t reach escape velocity with this show. It’s the stealing.

Every show steals from t.v. and movies. It’s not that writers can’t write from real experience; it’s that networks, with the millions of dollars they have riding on each decision, only buy shows that seem like other shows or hit movies.

That’s why the first years of “Ellen” (the sitcom, not the great talk show) and all the years of “Friends” (“The One About Seinfeld, Cheers, and Mad About You”) borrowed heavily from other shows. ("No! It's different-- this guy's name isn't 'Kramer'!!")

But here’s the part I love about “Numb3rs” (Please tell me it isn’t written that way in new Bibles...)—“Numbers” steals scenes. I don’t mean stories or plot lines. I mean visual scenes. I mean, in a b-plot, Krumholtz is on a date with a lovely woman, outdoors at night, at a posh restaurant, they agree not to talk about work, PAUSE and then discover they have nothing else to talk about… where have I seen that…Ohhhhh yeah…”The Player,” when studio head Tim Robbins is sitting outdoors at a posh restaurant with his underlings and says, “let’s not talk about work," PAUSE, followed by "Oh come on, we’re all bright people, there must be something else we can talk about.”

Later on, there are three of the show’s regular cast, discussing a case, not looking at each other, walking side-by-side down a building corridor, moving directly toward the camera…just like…the opening credits of “Law and Order,” where the main cast talks to each other while walking down a corridor directly toward the camera.

Murrow gets a lead, and heads straight to LA’s south bay, where he finds a crime was about to take place, but was called off in the middle of a parking lot, right at the “magic hour” (late afternoon, early evening, when everything in the frame is golden), and I’m not sure if that’s from Michael Mann’s “Heat,” when Al Pacino and his men hit a golden rooftop, only to discover that De Niro and his folks have left, and are taking pictures of the cops, or Robert Towne’s “Tequila Sunrise,” where, okay, actually, EVERY SHOT OF THE MOVIE was taken at between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and you feel like you’re watching Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell and Michele Pfeiffer through a jar of honey.

I’m not saying don’t steal. We all do.

Just, please, steal from obscure movies. Steal from “L’etoile des Enfants de la Plume de Ma Tante.” Steal stuff and change it. Steal stuff that other cinematographers and film buffs would catch, but that don’t distract schmoes like me from watching the show. Thank you.


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