‘Bull’: I Kinda Agree

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

I could just point out that even CBS has titled its new Michael Weatherly show Bull and leave it at that. But apparently my editor wants more than a one-sentence review. So here goes: NCIS graduate Weatherly stars in this deeply moving bio-series about the early years of Dr. Phil McGraw. Well, not really: It’s based on Dr. Phil’s career as an apparently super-slick jury consultant, one who fancied himself a maverick … if you can stretch the definition of “maverick” to include “guy who makes a lot of money manipulating the judicial system.” Yes, they’re calling the character Dr. Jason Bull.

“Dr. Bull has three PhDs in psychology,” says someone during the opening hour, because pilot episodes are all about selling you on a title character as much as it is persuading other characters to trust him. To seal the academic-twit deal, Weatherly wears very horn-y horn-rim glasses and works the no-necktie-zipper-sweater-under-blue-blazer look favored by tenured college profs throughout America.

As popular as Weatherly is, and as loaded with talent as the show is behind the scenes (producers include Steven Spielberg and the day-to-day presence of House and Quiz Show writer Paul Attanasio), I think Bull may be a hard sell for the faithful middle-American CBS audience: The character is kind of a smug jerk, and the pilot’s extensive use of cutting-edge technology (I’ll take their word for it) distracts from what Bull ought to be: a showcase for the beloved Weatherly. Dr. Bull runs the Trial Analysis Corp. (Dr. Phil oversaw something called Courtroom Sciences in the 1980s), taking a lordly strut among his eager-beaver employees, who include proud hackers and TV’s usual assortment of vaguely drawn but attractive young people clustered around the star to make him shine even more brightly. (“Dr. Bull knows how they’ll vote even before they do!”)

The premiere makes a nod to raciness with a couple of kinky-sex subplot details, but what the hour really comes down to is establishing Bull as a serenely cocky dude who drinks a lot of coffee and who’s so cool that he feels confident making a Richard Nixon joke, to the glassy-eyed incomprehension of his millennial employees. Michael Weatherly is an awfully charming performer; I trust he’ll work his magic and transform Bull into something his fans will enjoy as this production proceeds.

Bull airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.