Bull First Impressions
“You grew up with a lot pain didn’t you? That’s how you learn to watch people like that. Read ‘em. Figure out what makes them go. To survive in that home.”
I’d like to say I went into Bull with an open mind, but that isn’t true. Before looking at the schedule of fall premieres, I was mildly curious about this show. But then I accidentally learned a detail about production of this show that put me on edge. It made me ready to dislike it. You see, apparently CBS’s new tactic is to give shows to its hefty stars from a decade ago. First there was Kevin James’s new show Kevin Can Wait and now there is Bull. If you aren’t aware, Bull is a highly fictionalized autobiographical account of Dr. Phil McGraw’s time as a trial consultant. I don’t like Dr. Phil McGraw. I find him to be egotistical and I believe he peddles overly simplistic psychology in order to build up his media empire. Fortunately, even when I set aside my distaste for its creator, Bull keeps things simple by sucking on almost every level. This is some shockingly terrible writing and terrible characterization. Someone should have taken Dr. McGraw aside and told him to work through these issues.
Does anyone remember Lie to Me? It was a show starring Tim Roth that ran on Fox back in 2009. It had an interesting premise involving the analysis of micro expressions, but was hampered by an overly broad focus and poorly constructed characters. I bring this up because, aside from similarities in its premise, Bull definitely could have learned a thing or two from Lie to Me. Let’s start with the focus of the program. Bull focuses on the idea of utilizing jury analysis to steer the outcome of legal cases, and, in that regard, it has a better sense of what its central concept is than Lie to Me ever did. The idea of tailoring the manner in which a case is presented to manipulate the emotions of specific jurors isn’t exactly a groundbreaking one, but it does start to intrude into unsavory territory. If not handled delicately, the premise can feel underhanded and cynical. It isn’t handled delicately.
Now, just because your main characters do things that are underhanded or cynical doesn’t mean that they can’t be likable. This is something that series co-creator Paul Attanasio should be intimately aware of, due to his involvement in the creation of House. Unfortunately, those lessons seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as this show features one of the most unlikable casts I’ve seen since Stalker. Michael Weatherly can certainly be a charming actor, but Dr. Jason Bull is written to be such an unrepentant ass that it completely negates his charisma. He is constantly tearing down straw men with his superior understanding of human behavior, and it quickly becomes insufferable. This might be the element of the production that I understand the least, as, on the surface, Bull’s character seems like Dr. McGraw’s fan fiction version of himself. He’s young, brilliant, all the women find him attractive, but he is completely unlikable. It’s hard to say whether this is intentional, or just the result of terrible writing. Either way, it doesn’t work.
The rest of the cast is interchangeable. Bull has a sizable staff, and, with one or two exceptions, I don’t have a clue who any of them were. The dialogue amongst the group often has a grating rapid-fire quality. It is the type of fast dialogue that is supposed to be humorous, but no one actually talks like that. It is weird, awkward, and overly-coordinated. In the end, the characters just feel like cartoons. Everyone seems to have a single defining trait, and that serves as the essence of their entire being. So, you end up with these cardboard cutouts masquerading as people. There is the ivory tower defense attorney who looks down his nose at everyone. There is the tough female former cop who has connections. There is the fashion consultant who notices fashion. They’re all paper thin with no substance to engage the viewer with. The production is also overly fond of touch screens. They’re everywhere in Bull’s offices, and it far exceeds the point where they feel like a practical flourish. I half expected the show to start pulling out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. style holograms at any second.
I don’t understand this show. I cannot actually think of a single element of it that works for me. The mystery, if you can call it that, is extremely predictable, and, even if it wasn’t, it’s hard to bring oneself to care about it. The episode makes attempts at emotional or dramatic scenes, but they all come off as being saccharine or heavy handed. This is all just one huge question mark for me. This is garbage. What is CBS doing?
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- For the record, I liked season one of Lie to Me, but, with the seasons that followed, it decided to shift its focus away from its analysis of micro expressions and towards its characters. Big mistake.
- Normally, I’d use this opportunity to talk about the casting, but, as I mentioned before, I don’t know who any of these characters actually are. The only one I can easily identify is Michael Weatherly’s Dr. Jason Bull.
- This show might actually have a more insulting view of youths than Kevin Can Wait does.
- For those confused by the blurb underneath the link for this review, it’s an Alice in Chains reference.
I can't stand this show. Others may find it to be more tolerable, but I suspect few will go so far as to describe it as being 'good.' I can only testify to my experience and I found it insufferable.