I’ve slightly got out of the habit of reviewing pilots, I keep thinking that I want to give them more time to see how they’ll play out. But given that I didn’t have anything else to write about this week, I figured I might as well try it again. Then I cheated and also watched the second episode, but it’s close enough right?
Bull is so generic it could be used in a text book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I mean the ‘standards’ are there for a reason, but it does mean that it’s entering a crowded field and trying to stand out on charm alone. The good thing is that the one thing that it has going for it is Michael Weatherly who is charm personified. They are pretty much pinning the show on the fact that millions of people tuned into NCIS each week, and heaven knows it wasn’t for the plots, so a good chunk of them must have liked the cast, and Michael Weatherly is one of the few that had been there from the beginning.
I’ll confess, that would likely be enough for me to give the show a chance, I’ve actually like Weatherly since his earlier role on Dark Angel and he has one of my favourite traits in an actor, the ability to be funny and heartbreaking all in the same simple line of dialogue. I got tired of the character on NCIS because the writing was so inconsistent, frequently reverting to him being the immature fool just to support whatever gap there was in the story each week. This then, is a great opportunity, he’s not the comic relief, he’s the boss. Yes a ‘quirky’ one who seems to let his team boss him around a fair amount, but he’s the expert and he’s in charge.
Everything else you could almost fill in from a book of cliches and the writers make very little effort to hide that. I mean the idea itself is just a bog standard legal drama, with the variation on a theme that this one is focussed on understanding and manipulating the jury, by understanding what their psychological drivers are. It’s Lie to Me or Criminal Minds in a courtroom, The Good Wife with psychology.
Surrounding Bull is the usual collection of sidekicks – hackers, lawyers, investigators, advisors. It’s like a mix and match recipe with elements of characters from other series all muddled up. It’s a little unfortunate that rival new show Conviction came up with almost exactly the same characters from the mixture, but that show has tanked in the ratings so I guess Bull will win by default. Again, the tropes that are being used do work, they make for quirky and likeable characters with enough hints at depth that their backstories can dribble out over multiple seasons. But it’s just a bit tiresome.
The first two episodes follow the standard ‘Case of the Week’ structure, plenty of opportunity to explain how things work to both the clients and the audience (that’ll get tedious quickly though). The stories were unremarkable and fairly predictable, and each focused a little too lecturingly on built in biases, but optimistically the writers were just hoping we’d be too distracted by all the introductions to really care about the plot and are holding the good stuff for later.
The above all sounds pretty critical, but for all the cynicism, all those tropes exist for a reason – they work. The building blocks are immediately there for Weatherly to work with and get the charm across and I was engaged enough to come back next week. It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to win awards, have any critical praise at all, or even really make it onto any “must watch” lists, but it is the kind of thing that is very watchable and easy enough to watch while eating dinner. So long as that’s what they’re going for, then they’ve done just the bare minimum they need to succeed. If they wanted more than that, then they need to buck things up.