The team of geniuses on “Scorpion” wanted to know very early on what Paige (Katharine McPhee) the waitress contributed to their cause. This was a good question then, and despite the writers’ best efforts to integrate her into the plots, it’s still a mystery. Viewers enjoy her chemistry with King of the Nerds Walter (Elyes Gabel), but her character needed to be rewritten at the start to truly fit in with the show.
Real Life Understanding
The hook of Paige’s character is that she bonds with the hyper-intelligent but socially inept team, and helps them interact with the mere mortals they encounter. It’s plausible with a group of math geeks, but Scorpion includes genius psychologist Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas). When you have someone who can accurately read emotions and body language like an open book, an air-heady waitress seems vastly underqualified.
Toby has his own compulsive demons, and arguably exists on too intellectual a level to always be effective. If “Scorpion” gave us a true diner waitress who could verbally smack the geeks into submission and educate them on how the real world works, that would be useful. A good waitress knows how to talk to a wide variety of people, and learns how to interpret what they want.
Waitresses even learn subtle manipulation to keep everyone happy, diffuse potentially volatile situations, and of course earn a big tip. “Scorpion” doesn’t explore any of those skills, however. When Paige shyly steps up to a team member and says in tiny, girlish voice to “Say you’re sorry,” it’s more laughable than helpful.
Reworking the Character
Despite what the “Scorpion” introduction says every week, the main point of Paige is to be mother to a genius son and love interest for Walter. There’s nothing terrible about that idea, except when you try to strap that character into a military plane and drop her over enemy territory. None of the team are really qualified for these high-danger situations, but their overactive brains help protect them. Their skills are also essential to the operations, whereas Paige’s aren’t.
It wouldn’t have taken much creativity to give Paige a job that kept her in the Scorpion garage. It’s not far-fetched to imagine that Toby compulsively hired a cute girl to do office work. When you’re solving complex math equations and saving the world from nuclear annihilation, is anyone really going to remember to order toilet paper or pay the utility bills? Alternately, Cabe (Robert Patrick) could have hired someone to handle the government paperwork and to covertly keep an eye on his band of misfits.
This scenario keeps Paige in a safer environment where she won’t abandon her son to jet off to the Middle East. It also maintains her close contact with the team, where she still offers her real-world advice. She could break up fights, help solve problems, and bring her son in to hang out with fellow geniuses. This also wouldn’t prevent her from batting her eyelashes at a smitten Walter.
A Different Actress
If the show creators had to have the Paige character out on the missions, they needed a different actress. McPhee’s doe-eyed, naive aura worked well for her playing an aspiring Broadway star on “Smash,” but it fails here. The fact that they shoe-horned in an opportunity for the actress to sing on a recent “Scorpion” episode hammered home the idea of stunt-casting.
Despite the high IQ of its characters and the often serious subject matter, “Scorpion” takes a lighter approach to episodes than other dramas. McPhee is likable onscreen and bonds fairly well with the cast. This keeps her character from being as irritating as it would be on a more straightforward show. Imagine how much more entertaining it would be, however, with a truly feisty waitress like Susan Sarandon in “White Palace,” or even Kat Dennings on “2 Broke Girls.” You know Max would totally cut these genius types down to size.