Bull Provides a Flawed but Fun Ride

Written by Josh Sarnecky

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Bull Series Premiere Plot Summary:

Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly) and his colleagues act as jury consultants and trial analysts for a wealthy teen (Luke Slattery) accused of killing a girl at a party. As the trial proceeds, tensions between the families involved in the case erupt, and Bull discovers a secret that could dramatically alter the outcome of the trial.

After playing Special Agent Tony DiNozzo for thirteen years on the incredibly successful NCIS, Michael Weatherly was definitely entitled to a change of scenery and the chance to star in his own show. While he may have played second banana to Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Weatherly was always a fan favorite and proved that he had enough charisma to carry ongoing storylines and DiNozzo-centered episodes. No one should have been surprised, then, to see CBS pick up a series with Weatherly as the lead and air the show immediately after NCIS.

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And Weatherly truly is the star of Bull. Once again the actor illustrates his ability to deftly balance comedy and drama, juggling quips and revelations with ease from situation to situation; he delivers every line with a clear understanding of who his character is and what the emotional significance of the scene is. Despite this impressive performance from Weatherly, the number of tropes the show employs significantly weighs down the title character and the episode as a whole. Dr. Jason Bull may be loosely based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s (who co-wrote and produced this episode) early career as a juror consultant for lawyers and clients, the character has more in common with other fictional TV psychologists than the talk show host. Bull comes from the same cookie cutter as The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane, Lie to Me’s Dr. Cal Lightman, and others. He’s a seemingly arrogant but secretly damaged individual that uses his unique ability to read people and make predictions about their behavior, and his antics make him both a nuisance and lifesaver to those he works with. As a result, Dr. Bull’s personality is enjoyable but may be overly familiar for some viewers.

Similarly, the show’s premise and plot are somewhat stale and fantastical. Considering the unbelievable technology and resources that Bull and his coworkers use and the impossibly accurate observations his team are able to make, the show’s title may be ironically appropriate. However, even viewers that are able to suspend their disbelief will likely find the show’s concept a bit too recognizable. Television is full of courtroom procedurals and shows in which characters magically use psychology to solve crimes, so Bull’s marriage of the two is fun but not entirely groundbreaking. Thankfully, the entertaining character interactions and the show’s ability to make the most of this interesting combination make up for many of the show’s flaws and tropes.

The specific case in the premiere highlights many of the show’s strengths. Since Bull is a psychologist rather than a lawyer, the plot gives him plenty of opportunities to butt heads with the client’s legal team, and the antagonistic alliance they are forced into proves to be a consistent source of humor and drama. Not only does this relationship make the case a more complex conflict, the setup also allows the show a chance to provide a commentary on the justice system rarely seen in courtroom procedurals. The idea that “innocent until proven guilty” is an unrealistic ideal and that no juror is ever purely unbiased may cause discomfort, but these arguments are nevertheless thought provoking and provide a much-needed twist. One of the most amusing ways the premiere plays with this concept comes in the form Bull’s ability to hear what jurors are actually thinking during a trial; though this trick has been done before, the effect works particularly well in this context. The show also makes good use of the legal/psychological drama combination by having Bull provide both legal counsel and impromptu counseling to his clients. Breaking down the accused’s tough façade, Bull displays a level of compassion and vulnerability that distinguishes the character from other body language/psychology experts in crime procedurals. This heart to heart proves that underneath the show’s humor and occasionally cynical look at courtrooms lies an emotional core that should resonate with audiences.

None of Bull’s individual parts may be particularly innovative, but the amalgamation gives the show a solid foundation on which some intriguing storylines can be built. Even if the show’s progression into unfamiliar territory stalls, though, Weatherly’s performance and charm are well worth the price of admission. Time will tell if the show can distinguish itself from its competition and predecessors, but the series should appeal to NCIS fans missing Weatherly and anyone in search of a new courtroom procedural with a twist.

RATING: 7 OUT OF 10

Bull Airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on CBS