Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show – here Bull – in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
The Pedigree: The show was created by self-help guru Dr. Phil McGraw and Paul Attanasio (House). Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment) directed the pilot. The executive producers also include Steven Spielberg, apparently.
The Cast & How You Know Them: Bull stars Michael Weatherly (NCIS) along with Annabelle Attanasio (The Knick), Geneva Carr (Law & Order: SVU), Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), Jaime Lee Kirchner (Mercy), and Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under).
The Premise: Based on the life and career of Dr. Phil McGraw (yes, that Dr. Phil), Bull follows Dr. Jason Bull and his trial consulting team as they use a variety of psychological and technological methods to win jurors’ favor for their clients in high-profile trials.
What Works: The show is at least trying some different things, with its focus on actually showing the audience how things appear on social media (though that died away as the episode progressed) and its highly tech-based jury selection and manipulation strategies, including “mirror jurors,” a real method I don’t think I’ve seen on TV before. And the courtroom scenes are very stylized, with commentary from mirror jurors jumping out at the audience as things proceed. I’m not totally convinced by any of this, but it at least made the pilot more interesting to watch than I’d expected. Bull himself was kind of a blank, but I liked some of his team members, especially Cable (Annabelle Attanasio) and Chunk (Chris Jackson). No, I don’t know why none of these characters have names that are names. And I’m always happy to see Fred Weller, who guest starred in the pilot and so presumably (unfortunately) won’t be back.
What Doesn’t: While it had its interesting points, this show mostly just felt like a mess, like it doesn’t know quite what it wants to be yet. The “rich people don’t play by the same rules” beginning regarding the justice system felt very timely, but of course it turns out that (at least in this episode) the team is trying to help the rich people beat the system, which left a bad taste in my mouth given current real life events. The writing was pretty clumsy and the tone and pacing uneven, with occasional dropped-in reminders that Bull would eventually become a self-help guru feeling quite out of place. It also felt like the writers realized 50 minutes in that they hadn’t done anything to make their main character sympathetic or even particularly interesting, so they inserted a weird moment when a juror guesses that Bull had a difficult childhood and tells him “Stop trying to figure people out just to try to get them to do what you want.” Sorry, lady, that’s kinda the premise of the show.
Our Favorite Line: “The president gave me this watch.” “Nixon?”
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(Photo courtesy of CBS.)