BULL premiered last night on CBS, with a pilot episode that carried the unfortunate, desperate stench of trying too hard to be cool and relatable. Here’s what you need to know: Bull is loosely based on the early life of Dr. Phil, the host of the long-running eponymous talk show, back when he ran a company using his skills as a psychiatrist to advise lawyers on how to win over juries. Dr. Jason Bull (a name so groan-worthy it’s almost awesome) is played by Michael Weatherly, formerly of NCIS. In fact, this show is sandwiched between NCIS and NCIS: LA on CBS, so it’s going to have to try hard not to be a hit. However, it also tries very hard, at least in this episode, to convince viewers that it’s younger and hipper than those two programs.
Dr. Jason Bull is one cool dude who winks at people, treats situations with a sense of ironic detachment, and at one point even says out loud “too long, didn’t read”. He runs the Trial Analytics Company (TAC), with the help of Cable, an edgy millennial hacker, Chunk, a stylist who helps clients with their trial looks, and an ex-employee of the Department of Homeland Security. The episode opens with talking head-style clips of people discussing the concept of innocent until proven guilty, then switches to memes about the son of a billionaire who was just arrested for the murder of Alyssa Yang, an attendee at a party the son, Brendan, threw on a yacht.
The memes, Instagram-style posts, and faux-edgy New York Post headlines really add the air of desperation that surrounds the show. Also adding to that feeling is the inclusion of a go-nowhere subplot where Cable finds a photo of Taylor, Brandon’s best friend, tied up, bondage-style. Does this contribute to the plot? Not really. It’s barely mentioned again. It’s just included so that this show can demonstrate how cool and hip it is.
Anyways, Dr. Bull helps out the lawyer by assembling a mirror jury—people who are exactly like the real jury in almost every way—and testing out the lawyer’s, a former Attorney General, opening statement. He got all this personal information on the jurors through questionably legal surveillance—the pilot isn’t interested in debating whether or not what Bull does is right. It definitely cannot be cheap. It’s a little gross watching an extremely rich man manipulate the justice system in such a way, even if Brandon is actually not guilty. Is every client Bull takes on going to be not guilty? Or are we going to have to watch cool guy Bull ironically joke his way through accepting thousands and thousands of dollars to get someone truly guilty and deserving of punishment off?
Brandon is not guilty because he’s gay, and therefore the motive that he killed Alyssa because she refused to have anal sex with him doesn’t make sense. Brandon was actually hooking up with a man when Alyssa was killed—we know that it’s Taylor’s father right away because the camera lingers on him for too long. In fact, all major plot points are telegraphed by meaningful stares by Bull, whose almost supernatural powers of being able to determine what exactly people are thinking come off as a little bit unbelievable.
Brandon is released and Bull accompanies the police (Why? He doesn’t work with them.) to arrest Taylor’s mom for the murder. Bull predicted this too, despite no evidence or hints that she was the one. She wanted to Taylor to be happy, and Taylor wanted Brandon, who did hook up with Alyssa that night. The case is solved, but it felt a bit rushed. This isn’t a memorable episode of TV. One of the jurors, the one who Bull determined was the key to turning the jury, confronts him on the sidewalk, yelling at him to stop analyzing everyone else and start focusing on himself. The message is clichéd, obvious, and seemed like a last ditch attempt to add some gravitas to a largely meaningless episode.
Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
Bull airs Tuesdays at 9PM on CBS
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor