Bull is a stylish American legal drama series that started this month in the UK on Fox.
The bull of the title is Dr Jason Bull, a charming and sparky expert psychologist, played by Michael Weatherly, a familiar face to NCIS fans (of which, inexplicably there seems to be legion). Taking on a new case every week, we follow Dr Bull and his team of fellow ‘trial science’ experts as they use a combination of data, technology and good old-fashioned human intuition to produce a terrifyingly accurate assumption of a jury’s verdict. Apparently “he knows a jury better than they know themselves”. Dr Bull isn’t an entirely fictional creation – the show has been developed by American chat-show host Dr Phil (credited as an executive producer) and inspired by his early career.
So we’re neatly and quickly set up for skillful experts bamboozling the bad guys with their cleverness and helping the little people. I’m not quite sure how the little people will find the money to work with them, but never mind. Don’t let reality get in the way of a good story!
This is formulaic court room stuff but crafty with it, in the style of Lie to Me and the superb House MD, well-worn tropes employed by master craftsmen. You knew House would have a revelation about a patient during some totally unconnected conversation 8 minutes before the end credits, but you loved him anyway. Similarly Bull is nothing new, but all very good to look at.
The science seems so elaborate and unlikely it can’t be true. Dr Bulls’ team, as well as tripping up the other side and making their client look good in court, also employ full mock juries, like a focus group, who are picked as precise stand-ins for how the real people on the jury will think and behave. But I’ve googled it, and it’s the real deal, which begs the question how do you tell your boss that you’ll need two weeks off for mock jury service?
Weatherly is super-confident and charming, leading his merry band of brothers and sisters, all with their own speciality in their very specialist field. There’s very little in the way of exposition which is slightly confusing but very refreshing. This is not a new team, this is a group who have been working together for years. Of course Bull has to have a deep dark secret sadness, pointed out at the end of episode 1 by the mysterious juror who could see right through him, using his techniques on him.
The storylines are very much ripped from the headlines – a passenger aircraft crash, true crime podcasts and journalistic integrity, campus rape and how institutions cover it up. And in each case we are presented with vox-pop opinions from the man and woman on the street, so thickos are represented as well as the academics and the criminals.
It’s interesting to me that this show has launched now, in tough times for science, facts and experts. 2017 is a whole new age – a post-truth world. Does the audience still want to learn from experts, however suave and charming they are when expert opinion was ignored and maligned in the UK Brexit vote and the American presidential election? I know I do, but I’m in the minority it seems, on both sides of the Atlantic. And I wear glasses so that makes me a libtard elite bleeding-heart snowflake, of course.
It’s an intriguing show despite the well-worn formula. I hope that it does well, although the score on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t look good. Who knows? NCIS seems to be running impossibly towards series 15 which is at least 10 too many in my book. And Michael Weatherly has already proven some serious stamina in 13 of those, so whatever show he’s attached to, he’s in for the long haul.
I’m really enjoying it but I seem to be in the minority. Oh well.
Bull is on Tuesdays at 10pm on Fox. Catch up now via Sky and NowTV