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Series / Probe

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"What the hell kind of place is this?"

First aired in 1988, created by Isaac Asimov and Michael Wagner for ABC Television. An Amateur Sleuth series drawing upon the usual quirky detective and clueless assistant dynamic.

Austin James (Parker Stevenson) is a reclusive genius and President of Serendip, a high-tech consulting firm he founded. However, he's too irritated by average people to come up with solutions for them and instead conducts random experiments in his warehouse full of devices (most of which he appears to have designed on his own) For Science!

Michelle Castle (Ashley Crow), also known as Mickey, is his Beleaguered Assistant. Serendip hired her to be Austin's secretary and uses her to get Austin involved in things outside of his warehouse, like his job. Conventionally intelligent, she's the latest in a line of secretaries sent to Austin by the CEO of Serendip.

Together, these two encounter out-of-control experiments, supernatural events, and mysterious deaths. As you might expect, Probe features heavy doses of scientific knowledge and logical reasoning, but was cut short due to the 1988 writer's strike.

Not to be confused with the direct-to-video BBV Productions film series P.R.O.B.E., based on Doctor Who in 1994.

Probe provides examples of the following tropes:

  • '80s Hair: Austin's designer mullet and Mickey's post-dryer frizz with bangs are classic examples of the contemporary styles for men and women of the 1980s.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Austin calls Michelle Castle "Mickey".
    • Michelle (in private) calls Austin James "Jimmy".
  • Amateur Sleuth: Austin James is constantly trying to learn what he doesn't already know. This includes discovering how various people are murdered. The first episode establishes him to have a good working relationship with the police coroner, but his actual job is President of Serendip (which he hates and actively avoids so he can do scientific experiments instead). Michelle Castle is hired to be his secretary and she helps him solve each episode's mystery.
  • Always Murder: While Austin is fascinated with a diverse array of interesting topics, the plot of the episode always revolves around at least one murder. Because the pilot episode is a two-parter, it has two murder mysteries to solve.
  • Bluff the Impostor:
    • "Black Cats Don't Walk Under Ladders (Do They?)": During The Summation, Austin uses the killer's own knowledge against them, causing them to believe that they've been affected by the same poisoned tea that was used to kill Marty Corrigan. He has to do it because until the killer confessed, he wasn't sure which of the suspects had done it.
    • "Now You See It....": At the climax of the episode, Austin James has recreated the murder method that was used to kill the previous two businessmen. He confronts his prime suspect with the situation (which includes an empty elevator shaft covered by a Hologram) and tricks him into confessing. The murderer does, but then tosses Austin down the empty shaft. Serendip's CEO and several police come out from around corners to arrest him. (Austin is fine, having anticipated this, lying safely on a crash cushion.)
    • "Plan 10 from Outer Space": Because he didn't have any evidence to determine if Trish or Helga committed the murder, Austin has to trick the murderer into confessing, by using the victim's sunglasses, which he says created a photonegative when the victim was electrified. When the murderer sees herself on the wall, she immediately starts trying to defend herself.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Mickey is hired at Serendip to be Austin's assistant. He really doesn't want one, and tries to chase her off like he's done to the previous secretaries sent to him by the CEO. Note that Austin is founder and President of the company; Mickey finds herself in the unenviable position where if she doesn't make Austin happy, he will fire her, and if she doesn't make Austin do at least some work for the company, the CEO will fire her. She slowly grows out of this role, becoming more confident in her ability to get productivity from Austin and keep him engaged in interesting experiments.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Austin is a genius, holding enough patents and royalties from his inventions that he founded Serendip without any investment help. He's also socially awkward, callous, and, by self-admission, mildly schizophrenic. It becomes Mickey's job to manage Austin's quirks so that he remains a net benefit to his own company.
  • Dainty Little Ballet Dancers: One of Michelle's childhood photos shown in the Title Montage depicts her in ballet clothes, practicing. It's a feminine contrast to Austin's mechanical masculinity.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • "Computer Logic": When Mickey tells Austin that the broken rose petal reminds her of a piece of glass, he finally makes the connection to what happened; this episode's death was caused by liquid nitrogen.
    • "Computer Logic, Part 2": Michelle tells Austin to think about who can dial a phone, but doesn't like to talk, and knows all of Austin's unlisted telephone numbers. He immediately realizes that the mysterious figure who has been prank calling him and causing the mysterious electrical behaviour must be Crossover, the Artificial Intelligence.
    • "Untouched by Human Hands": When Mickey points out that Austin can't be aware when every acorn falls, he thinks of tea. That chain of random thoughts helps him realize that there was something wrong with the tea in the radiation lab. The glass of tea in the video was full, but they sent the robot in when it was half-empty.
    • "Metamorphic Anthropoidic Prototype Over You": While decoding Josephine's writings, Austin realizes that she thinks all of reality is just like on television. Her morality is based on things like Soap Operas, where killing romantic rivals is acceptable behaviour. He immediately calls Mickey and tells her to lock down the warehouse for her protection.
    • "Plan 10 from Outer Space": Reading the letter from the lightning rod company helps Austin figure out what really happened to Truman. He tells Mickey to get the other two characters and he's going to show them who "Rexel 14" and the murderer really are.
  • First-Name Basis: Before the end of the first episode, Austin and Michelle are familiar enough with each other that they use first names and nicknames.
  • For Science!: Austin is often more interested in the pursuit of scientific research instead of whatever other demands on his time are being made, demands like running his company, socializing, or paying bills.
  • The Gadfly: Austin's intelligence and self-diagnosed schizophrenia cause him problems when it comes to relating with other people. Because of this, he intentionally provokes responses from people with a disrespectful attitude to amuse himself and get answers to his questions. People in the scientific field tend to admire him, while his business contacts tend to hate him.
    Michelle Castle: Why do you enjoy tormenting people so much?
    Austin James: Because when I torment them, I get what I need. Answers! It's nothing personal.
  • Girl Friday: Michelle Castle was hired by Serendip to be Austin's secretary. She manages his appointments, provides a different point of view (often leading to a "Eureka!" Moment), and things Austin can't begin to describe.
  • Insufferable Genius: Austin is the smartest man on the planet. And he never lets you forget it. Ever.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Austin hates being around other people, finding them to be irritants and distractions from his pursuit of more knowledge. Except Mickey, whom he respects despite not being as knowledgeable.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Austin is typically a sarcastic misanthrope, but occasionally shows a softer side, and Mickey seems to accept that.
    Mickey: I'm sure falling in love is not on your list of scientific priorities.
    Austin: I spent ten years designing a prosthetic device so that people without legs could walk. Maybe you and I just don't have the same definition of "love".
  • Mirrored Confrontation Shot: At the end of the Title Montage, Austin and Michelle are looking at each other across a table while a glass (half-full or half-empty?) with water sits between them.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Michelle is a secretary whose scientific education is rather low, and would insist on some answers only being felt, rather than relying on the scientific method of recording and replication. Her Foil is Austin James, a genius who gets excited when he doesn't know the answer and believes that observation and replication will provide the answer to all of life's mysteries.
  • Multi-Part Episode: The first episode is titled "Computer Logic", while the second episode (initially airing immediately after the first) is titled "Computer Logic Part 2". In order to have a murder solved in each episode, the first part has a subplot about a woman who supposedly died of exposure solved by Austin before the end of the first hour.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Austin is familiar with a wide variety of scientific fields of study. He demonstrates computer programming skills several times, is interested in neurological uplift programs, and tries to solve mysteries in his spare time.
  • One-Word Title
  • Once per Episode: Every episode, Austin will solve a murder mystery.
  • Photographic Memory: Austin claims to have the ability to recall everything perfectly, an aspect of his high intelligence. Mickey is pissed when she finds out because he's been having her write down everything that's been said (for no purpose, since he remembers it perfectly). When it's brought up again later, he claims to have been certified by the government for having a recall that is five times more effective than the best computerized directory.
  • Robot Me: The Title Montage includes a picture of a young Austin between two blocky robots with flexitubes for arms that are made to resemble a man and woman. It's signed with love from his parents. Michelle finds this photo in the Premiere while Austin is taking a nap.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Austin James gets aggressive when he hears people around him repeating pseudo-scientific claims and trans-dimensional mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately for him, his secretary Michelle Castle has almost no understanding of current scientific models or the scientific process. They conflict over this issue several times during the Premiere, but have a much more settled relationship for subsequent episodes. Austin remains an Enlightenment supporter and Michelle is more into Romanticism.
  • Sassy Secretary: Michelle has no problems talking back to her boss Austin (it helps that her initial contact was coloured by the fact that the Director who hired her said she wasn't to let Austin fire her, so she had to come up with a few creative excuses why he had to let her follow him). Midway through the series they're more respectful to one another, but the first episode has them yelling at each other fairly often.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax:
  • Smart House: Austin has wired up his workshop/warehouse with the ability to respond to complex voice-activated commands, but not quite autonomous responsiveness. He uses it to answer the phone, play music, and do intensive research.
  • Smart People Play Chess: One of Austin's childhood photos shown in the title sequence depicts him taking part in a chess competition against several much older players. At the same time.
  • The Teaser: Each episode starts with a Montage of clips from later in the episode. They're selected from the most action-packed scenes for the episode, but the first part of the Premiere used completely unique footage, with a Dramatic Chase Opening to establish a mysterious person is able to Hack the Traffic Lights and indirectly kill people.
  • Title Montage: Black-and-white photos from Austin's and Michelle's childhoods are presented in Montage form, interspersed with brief colour videos from the episodes. Halfway through the opening, the black-and-white photos change to be about the two of them as they are now. The opening ends with Austin and Michelle looking at each other across a table while a glass (half-full or half-empty?) with water sits between them.
  • The Watson: Mickey's primary role in the narrative is to ask questions from Austin and others so that the audience is aware of the clues.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Once the relationship between Austin and Mickey stabilizes, the writers often toy with this.
    • Austin undermines Mickey's date, by doing a projection of how the man will look in the future. Afterward, he admits to himself that he included car crash results.
    • In "Metamorphic Anthropoid Prototype Over You", Mickey is jealous of Austin's groupie.
      Mickey: I think she may want to tap more than your brain.
    • In "Quit-It", a young girl uses subliminals to make Austin and Mickey to fall for each other. At the end, Austin uses subliminals to make Mickey fall for him. She gets over it.