There have been a lot of shows in recent years that focus on a character that is either a genius, or simply so good at what they do that they might as well be, and the ones that have been any good put their characters into interesting worlds, and then forced them to cope while trying to work their magic. Bull is something that approaches an opposite effort, where plotlines and other characters are rather silly, and have to cope with their proximity to the most interesting man in the world.

Dr. Jason Bull runs a trial consulting firm that analyzes juries under an unbelievable microscope in an effort to learn the trial strategy that will tip things to one side or the other. Bulls leads a team of experts who help coordinate the massive undertaking that is figuring out everything about everything, but at this point they may as well go by their script descriptions – hacker girl, “tough” ex-cop woman with connections, etc. Their roles are explained, but they only exist as characters, so far, in order to hold up the clothes that are supposed to help sell their stereotype to you.

The pilot focuses on a murder case that results in a trial which pits an “Affluenza” poster child against a jury who largely want to convict him before things get underway. Or, so we’re told. The machinations toward a not guilty verdict revolve around swaying a particular juror, who we believe will then sway others for us. Beyond that, the fevered rush to spin just the right story for the jurors mostly results in opportunities to spew a kind of species condescension, gather details of the juror’s lives, ultimately for no real reason, and give Dr. Bull a chance to play with his Minority Report-esque computer system.

It all makes the viewing a struggle, and perhaps the worst part of it is the effort at story construction that thinks so little of its own audience, throwing things together a little too much like Dr. Bull, who won’t even help someone carry their bags, except when he’s determined that it will serve to manipulate someone. There is so much of a “smoke and mirrors” mindset to the story development that it is almost instantly off-putting. When it isn’t the staging of every scene and line of dialog, it’s the almost bizarre plot steps and reinforcement of ideas. Dr. Bull wants to be crystal clear that the fact that there is absolutely no

There is so much of a “smoke and mirrors” mindset to the story development that it is almost instantly off-putting. When it isn’t the staging of every scene and line of dialog, it’s the almost bizarre plot steps and reinforcement of ideas. Dr. Bull wants to be crystal clear that the fact that there is absolutely no evidence in this case, the fact that the (scoff) lawyer thinks he can avoid a conviction is cute, but laughable and shows his incompetence. I mean, we all know that people are stupid automatons who convict people of crimes based on the fact that they got divorced, or their dry cleaning was ruined, or… shiny!

The potential save, for some, is that the show is generally light, but fast-paced, and Michael Weatherly is almost charming enough to break through the material he has to try to circumvent. There’s room for it in a guilty pleasure space, especially because, for as much as it throws in “impress speak” as much as possible, you don’t really have to pay that much attention. “Hacking” still means hitting three keys and happens in five seconds, “cerebral” theories “work” by virtue of being mentioned, etc.

The last five minutes of the show sum everything up perfectly, creating a microcosm of the overall effort. A juror speaks to Dr. Bull in an exchange so ludicrous that it almost demands you believe that she has never spoken out loud to anyone before. The obnoxiously telegraphed villain is exposed as Dr. Bull swoops in, and it’s a scene that leaves the absence of the line, “And, I would have gotten away with it to if it wasn’t for that meddling trial consulting firm!” shockingly palpable.

The show bills itself as being inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil, and if I were him, I’d try to get them to stop saying that.


 

Bull stars Michael Weatherly as Dr. Jason Bull in a drama inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw, the founder of one of the most prolific trial consulting firms of all time. Brilliant, brash and charming, Dr. Bull is the ultimate puppet master as he combines psychology, human intuition and high tech data to learn what makes jurors, attorneys, witnesses and the accused tick.

Bull employs an enviable team of experts at Trial Analysis Corporation to shape successful narratives down to the very last detail. They include his quick-witted former brother-in-law, Benny Colón, a lawyer who acts as defense attorney in the company’s mock trials; Marissa Morgan, a cutting-edge neurolinguistics expert from the Department of Homeland Security; former NYPD detective Danny James, the firm’s tough but relatable investigator; haughty millennial hacker Cable McCrory, who is responsible for gathering cyber intelligence; and Chunk Palmer, a fashion-conscious stylist and former All-American lineman who fine tunes clients’ appearances for trial. In high-stakes trials, Bull’s combination of remarkable insight into human nature, three Ph.D.’s and a top-notch staff creates winning strategies that tip the scales of justice in his clients’ favor.

 

 

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Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.