After spending 14 seasons on NCIS I understand why Michael Weatherly would want to do something different. When he left the show at the end of last season I presumed he would take a year or two off. Perhaps he would do a couple of movie roles or even try going to New York and doing a stageplay. I did not expect that he would jump right back into another TV series. He was already on the highest rated drama on television. I would’ve thought if he wanted to continue to do TV he wasn’t going to do much better than where he was. I’ve not seen any interviews about why he left or what was so attractive about this new TV series for CBS but he made the move anyway.
In his new series “Bull” he plays Dr. Jason Bull who is a psychologist that is an expert jury consultant. He works with lawyers to analyze juries and help them fine-tune their presentations to have the most impact. Supposedly this story is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil who before he had his own TV show worked for a very successful similar consulting firm. They do not claim nor is there any evidence that the character himself is based on Dr. Phil.
Bull is self-assured to the point of arrogance. He’s one of those people who is always the smartest person in the room. If you have any doubts, just ask him. He basically takes over the case and dictates to the lawyers how to manage it. This in the face of lawyers who are normally self-assured and arrogant themselves. The lawyer in the opening episode is a former US Attorney General but Bull treats him like a community college dropout. Tony DiZozzo on NCIS was self-assured but rarely arrogant and was substantially more likable then the new guy. So if he was looking for a new character to play he’s definitely found someone different.
Once a jury is seated, his firm recruits their own panel of jurors who are a psychological match for the actual jury. Then they hold multiple mock trials to see which strategies will or will not work. During the actual case, Bull sits in the courtroom and we look inside his head where he envisions the jurors talking to him and telling him what they’re thinking. Supposedly he is so adept at reading their body language that he knows what they’re thinking and whether or not they are buying what the lawyer is selling them.
This ability to magically read people’s thoughts by analyzing facial micro-expressions and body language is not an original idea for a TV series. The 2009 series “Lie to Me” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235099/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_24 starring Tim Roth had a similar premise. While I’m a poker player and believe that it is occasionally possible to detect a person’s “tells” by reading their expressions, the extremes to which these TV experts take this phenomena is literally incredible (meaning without credibility) in my opinion. Such shows almost cross the boundary into science fiction. I think I would find them more interesting if they just said he had real psychic ability. At least the TV show “Psych” played it for laughs. It was about an ultra-observant private detective who claimed he had psychic ability because people would rather believe that he was psychic than believe that he could look at a situation and figure it out faster than Sherlock Holmes. I feel the same way about Bull.
The idea of duplicating a courtroom and holding mock trials is also not new to television. In 2006 we had “Shark” starring James Woods. He was a defense attorney who built an exact duplicate of the courtroom in his basement and would hold mock trials and rehearsals of his arguments.
Of course there is also nothing original about his old series NCIS. It’s pretty much an ordinary procedural crime drama in a military setting with an occasional touch of international intrigue. At times the military connections are pretty weak. For example their season premiere investigated the murder of a naval officer but it turns out he was not the target of the attack. He was just a guy who got caught in the crossfire however NCIS continue to investigate the entire crime whether it was their jurisdiction to do so or not. It remains the number one drama on television despite its lack of originality. Its success comes not from the plot lines but from the characters themselves. I watch it because I like the characters and the same is true for NCIS: New Orleans. For whatever reason I don’t like the characters in NCIS: Los Angeles so I skip it. I also Lie to Me, Shark, and Psych not because of their premise or plots but because I liked the characters.
Pardon the cliché but the jury is still out when it comes to Weatherly’s new show. I will miss Tony DiNozzo but I’m not yet fallen in love with his new character. Near the end of the first episode there was a hint that beneath this outer bravado is a troubled soul that he’s hiding. Depending on how that plot line goes it might make the character more interesting. If I believed more in his abilities it might be easier to like him. But for now I think the whole thing is a lot of Bull—-. I’m giving this on a high end of “could be watchable”.