Review: Michael Weatherly, recast as jury puppeteer on ‘Bull’


To play the lead role in “Bull,” a drama that debuts Tuesday on CBS, Michael Weatherly left “NCIS,” which after more than 300 episodes is still one of TV’s most popular shows. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that “Bull” isn’t going to enjoy that kind of longevity.

It’s nothing against Mr. Weatherly, whose sympathy easily transfers to the new series. It’s the premise of the show that’s off-putting. We humans are seemingly just puppets on a string, easily manipulated even in the performance of one of our most vital civic duties. Who wants to be reminded every week?

Mr. Weatherly plays Dr. Jason Bull (terrible name for a character and a show, by the way), who runs the Trial Analysis Corporation, which advises clients on how to choose and influence a jury. Bull and his underlings investigate the backgrounds of jurors and potential jurors, looking for those who may be manipulated into using biases and emotions they may not know they have.

In the opening episode, a body on a beach starts a case that may or may not involve a wrongful arrest. The story hinges on a “revelation”, a revelation that won’t be spoiled here but that you’ve seen too many times over the past 20 or so years. Once would have been shocking; these days it looks like lazy writing.

This doesn’t bode well for the side of this show that involves real cases. It also doesn’t bode well that no one on Bull’s team stands out after the first episode; it’s a generic lot of hard-charging employees.

Mr. Weatherly fares better, retaining some of the playfulness of his “NCIS” character, Anthony DiNozzo, while growing quite a bit. DiNozzo, a sage, was often the least intelligent person in a room full of smarties. Here, Bull is the brains of the outfit, but he’s got a dollop of rakishness. DiNozzo fans will be intrigued.

It’s unclear from the premiere what the writers intended to do with Bull – will he be a Romeo, like in “NCIS,” or an eccentric psychology Einstein, or what? There are hints of a story in the premiere, but most of the first episode (the only one made available in advance) is devoted to establishing what Bull does and how he does it.

The show is said to be based on the career of a former real-life trials consultant, Phil McGraw – now better known as “Dr. Phil”, the daytime talk show host. So apparently the kind of described game continues, but it’s certainly not pleasant to think about Yes, other shows have probed our collective malleability – “Mad Men” and its advertising, for example – but here the application is direct and personal and is takes place in what is supposed to be a sacred civic arena. Is the principle of being judged by an impartial jury of peers a myth? I don’t want to hear it, even if it’s true.


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