Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pilot Review: Bull


Bull (Tuesdays at 9:00 on CBS)

You have to love when a show announces its own quality right in the title. Bull is full of itself, in all senses of the phrase.

Based on the life of Dr. Phil (yeah, that Dr. Phil, of Oprah fame and gossipy talk show glory), here credited as a creator and producer, as well as co-writer of the pilot episode, the series follows former NCIS stalwart Michael Weatherley as Dr. Jason Bull, a psychologist who runs a trial consultant firm. This is apparently a real thing, since the show is based on Dr. Phil's pre-Oprah career, where Bull and his employees hold mock trials to try to influence jury placement and, once the trial has commenced, jury response. Bull accomplishes this by having hallucinations and talking to voices only he can hear, voices telling him how the jury members are reacting based on their facial expressions and past experiences. It's a bunch of (say it with me)... bull.

Entirely ridiculous in both concept and execution, Bull is simply the latest product of the CBS procedural factory, one of a dozen that seemed to be randomly plucked from some conveyor belt somewhere of half-cocked ideas with half-interesting lead characters driving half-assed hours of TV. It's exactly the same as almost every other show CBS has ever put on the air, designed solely to crank out standalone episodes that are easy to swallow without having to think or know anything about the people or stories on screen. You can sit down in the middle of this pilot and not feel like you've missed anything. You'll understand that Bull is a smarmy dickhead (or, if you'd rather, bullish), with Weatherley playing his least-attractive qualities to the hilt, and you'll get that he has something to do with the legal system. And that's about all you need to know. The rest is superfluous, by-the-numbers stuff. A rich white kid is arrested for murdering a beautiful young Asian girl after supposedly raping her, like about 300 other rich white kids have done over on Law & Order: SVU in the past 18 years, and Bull finds out the kid is innocent by reading his mind or something, somehow realizing he's gay and was sleeping with an older man the night of the murder yadda yadda yadda something or other. It doesn't really matter, does it?

No, it doesn't. Bull doesn't try to be anything but an imitation of other shows and tropes and characters. Bull is the Dr. House of the courtroom, his team the NCIS of the legal system (and the program they use to "read" jury members and figure out "how they will vote before even they do" is straight out of early Person of Interest). There was no effort put in here to differentiate him or his series from anything else you can see anywhere else on television. Bull feels like it was created with the purpose to slip seamlessly into strip syndication, alongside SVU reruns, where its audience of the elderly or the homebound or the sick or the unemployed won't even notice it's an entirely different show than the one that just wrapped up a four-hour mini-marathon before it. But for those who pay attention, you'll find a thoroughly off-putting show (even beyond those gross, utterly tasteless "He'll get you off" advertisements) about a bunch of stuck-up, obnoxious people who have made a career out of playing the justice system. Don't let them play you, too, and avoid this nonsense.

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