NUMB3RS has quietly carved out a comfortable audience in the Friday Night Timeslot of Death [10/9C] by putting a clever spin on the standard procedural – emphasizing family, and not shying away from tough subjects. This week's episode, Killer Chat, is centered around a serial killer who is targeting pedophiles…
When it comes to procedurals, it seems that each one needs some kind of gimmick. In the case of NUMB3RS, that edge is provided by the use of mathematics to hunt down probabilities – and determine suspects, locations, or even methods. Of course, a procedural with a good gimmick still won't work if the writing sucks, and shows don't general survive on Friday nights if they suck [and frequently if they're good – the timeslot of Death is not a respecter of quality].
What makes this procedural work – and draw a Friday night audience – is a peculiar confluence of elements. First, the show is well written and produced [solid production values always help]. Second, the show is cast exceedingly well, and talent [given good writing] is always a good thing. Third, math is used well – and researched and checked by a Professor of Mathematics at Caltech. Fourth, the show is built around a series of relationships, both familial and surrogate familial. All of these elements are used, in varying degrees in every episode.
For Killer Chat, with its serial killer who preys on molesters of the young, the relationships are even more central to the episode. The main focus is on Charlie Eppes [David Krumholtz] and his relationships with mentor and friend, Larry Fleinhardt [Peter MacNicol] – who is about to head off to the International space Station, and that with his brother, Special Agent Don Eppes, whom his math gives case-breaking leads.
Mirroring the happy family vibe of the Eppes clan, is the dysfunctional family of one of the victims, a teacher who has worked at far too many schools in a short period of time – and the family of one of the first suspects: a family which has been victimized by a molester.
For all that Killer Chat is built around a subject that is hard to deal with, the script [written by Don McGill, directed by Chris Hartwell] doesn't shy away from the feelings that the subject invariably engenders. The manner in which he has the killer work is little short of genius, and the method by which Charlie develops a way to predict the next crime scene [the killer uses houses that are for sale – in very specific neighborhoods] is definitely up to the show's high standard.
As a kind of counterbalance to the various other elements of the episode, the relationship between Larry and Megan Reeves [Diane Farr] is given some moments of genuine sweetness – without losing any of Larry's sweet eccentricity, or Megan's more ordered sensitivity. There is also a particularly fine moment when Charlie stands up for his friend.
If you wonder what a series has to do to survive on a Friday – and if you're not otherwise engaged – Killer Chat is practically a clinic on the subject.