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Oct 2016

2016-2017 TV Season Review: BULL

Posted by / in Television / 6 comments

Michael Weatherly as Dr. Jason Bull in a drama inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw. Photo: Patrick Harbron/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Weatherly as Dr. Jason Bull in a drama inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw. Photo: Patrick Harbron/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CBS has been riding high on crime procedurals now for several decades and its getting harder and harder for them to find  fresh franchises that aren’t just new editions of CSI, NCIS or CRIMINAL MINDS in different cities…or reboots of old procedurals. BULL isn’t it. The series, based loosely on the life of Dr. Phil, is about a shrink (Michael Weatherly) who uses psychology, surveillance, investigation, computer hacking, and manipulation to select and influence juries.  The problem, at least in the slickly-produced pilot, is that there’s nobody to root for.  It’s a show about how obscenely rich people can manipulate/game the justice system to get the result they want. And, in the pilot, it’s all about a  smug, obnoxious, rich kid accused of killing a teenage Asian girl, herself a drug dealer, that he had sex with at a party (he hog tied another naked girl in an S&M pose, and posted pictures of her on social media, but didn’t sleep with her). Bull doesn’t know if the kid is innocent or not — his job is just to get the kid off. Everybody involved on the story, including Bull and his TV-perfect team, is either unsympathetic or repugnant…nobody is the least bit likeable. So who are you supposed to root for? Of course Bull discovers late in the game that the kid is just horribly misunderstood, unloved, sexually conflicted and innocent of murder…but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s nobody in the story for the viewer to give a damn about. So what’s the franchise? I assume that each week Bull is hired by someone very rich to influence and manipulate the jury in the criminal trial of someone who may or may not be innocent (but who, of course, will always turn out to be innocent, because our hero can’t be seen using his superpowers to get a bad guy off). Is that a series? Maybe it is. But not one I’m interested in seeing.

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  • P.N. Elrod

    October 1, 2016, pm31 4:23 PM

    Glad I didn’t waste time on this one. Good to have my instincts validated. It is Writing 101 to have at least one character to root for in a story. I’ll go back to watching B&W Perry Mason reruns. Those are so much more satisfying!

  • Bonnie MacBird

    October 1, 2016, pm31 7:36 PM

    Lee I felt the same way. I watched the second ep as well, but the real problem is that Bull’s profession is pretty much despicable, and his efforts seem to be launched entirely unconnected to the innocence or guilt of the person on trial. Just a rather callous dramatization of how a trial can be bought. The other characters seem to exist only to explain the process to the client and to us. It is a shame, because Michael Weatherley is, in my opinion, a very talented and appealing actor and frankly movie star material. Even so, I found it very hard to stay interested.

  • PolyWogg

    October 1, 2016, pm31 7:41 PM

    I would agree with the assessment all the way to about the 90 percent mark of the episode. However, and ** spoiler alert for others ** Bull does support the kid — for being gay, just for being himself, just for being. And in the end, they added the post-facto wrap up to show them arresting the real killer so that you can root for the victim to be avenged at least.

    Episode 2 went in a different direction — they represented a pilot in a case where everyone wanted her to settle so they could settle cheaply with the victims of a plane crash but would hang her out to dry. So Bull “saves” her. It wasn’t an “awesome” episode but someone, somewhere in the writing crew has a brain. When she fires her lawyer, you would expect the standard “you’re fired” cliche. But she’s a retired military pilot, she has strong self-control, she’s just found out that the lawyer has a reverse contingency fee that makes him a lot of money if she settles, and except for a weird point where she asks if she can fire her lawyer (who doesn’t know they can do it? TV alone would tell them that much!), the writer went with a different line. Instead of saying, “You’re fired!” she says very calmly, very militarily, “You are relieved.” I actually have a bit of hope for the future, based solely on that line. I like that writer’s instincts.

    Of course, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  • Chazman

    October 2, 2016, am31 1:57 AM

    I can’t figure out how they think they can keep this model going as a continuing series. Every week, no matter what the situation of the crime/trial is, you’re going to see them with a mock jury trying to figure out how to get at the real jury to go along with them. It’s going to get old after a while. I agree with Polywogg’s post about how the first episode ended and how the second was different with the pilot, but both had the basic premis that they got to go after the jury. Weatherly is really good in he role and is showing he can expand his acting past the NCIS DeNozzo character. Hopefully if this doesn’t work out he’ll find a decent show after. Then again Scorpion is still on and I didn’t ever think that after I watched the first episode a few years ago.

  • Earl Staggs

    October 2, 2016, am31 8:52 AM

    As much as I like Michael Weatherly, I can’t bring myself to watch this show simply because it features the kind of lawyers I detest. Most lawyers are honest hardworking people who care about justice in the courtroom. Some of them, however, only care about winning and making lots of money, justice be damned. They’re the kind who would hire a Bull (or a Phil) to stack the deck, so to speak, and just seeing them on the screen irritates me so much I can’t enjoy the show. So I’ll pass on this show and most others about lawyers, and I hope Michael Weatherly gets something better down the road.

  • Margaret

    October 2, 2016, pm31 4:52 PM

    not a fan

    I wondered where are the characters I’m supposed to care about?

    no one was interesting

    the story wasn’t compelling

    mock jury every week? at least it employs some people

    I won’t be watching any more

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