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‘Bull’ pilot review: Hope for depth, but don’t expect it


Michael Weatherly stars in CBS' "Bull," playing a character based on the young Dr. Phil McGraw Credit: CBS


WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. on CBS/2


WHAT IT’S ABOUT A prospective juror has a bumper sticker that says “The system is rigged.” So, of course, Michael Weatherly’s series lead loves her. Dr. Jason Bull runs a “trial science” firm — a high-tech mélange of mock courtroom, private investigation, computer databases, psychological perception, demographic insight and one cute-’n’-quippy team of legal soldiers who fight to free their clients.

Weatherly is their strutting sergeant, looking brainy in glasses, acting impish while swiping a frenemy’s Rolex. He sees all. Hacks all. Intuits all. Yet beneath his sleek facade, he’s actually —

That’ll come, eventually. Tuesday night’s “Bull” pilot is all cool analysis — who’s the “alpha” juror (see reams of online data), how “nonverbal” communication betrays inner thoughts (hear vocalized asides), what the “stylist” says the client should wear. The visual tone is all glassy offices, glossy banks of computer screens, enviably pricey lofts, web-posted sex selfies. It’s “CSI” for the social media/celebrity obsessed.

MY SAY And it’s unbelievably cynical. If those “Perry Mason” whodunits represent the baby boom ’50s (“My client is innocent!”), and showy/soapy “L.A. Law” evoked greed-is-good in the yuppie ’80s, our decade also gets the legal drama it deserves. If you don’t have the money, talent and technology to get yourself exonerated, too bad for you.

“Bull” is sleek in look, pace and technique — and crafty enough to indulge CBS’ trademark dollop of human feeling amid the flash. But it’s essentially breezy TV junk food, leaving behind a prefab aftertaste. Its setup presents plenty of fascinating concepts — recall Tim Roth’s smart Fox hour “Lie to Me” — but the pilot does little to illuminate them, content merely to revel in their state-of-the-art coolness.

Weatherly has long been a fan favorite on “NCIS,” and his star turn here should keep those hordes happy. Ditto Freddy Rodriguez (“Six Feet Under”) as the team’s mock court star, Jaime Lee Kirchner (“Mercy,” “The Mob Doctor”) as its ex-cop sleuth and Chris Jackson (Broadway’s “Hamilton”) as a style fashionista. All serviceable, which is all they’re asked to do. Perhaps delve a little deeper next week?

BOTTOM LINE Hope for depth, but maybe don’t expect: “Bull” lists Dr. Phil McGraw as executive producer, and it’s loosely based on his pre-TV career as a jury consultant. His daytime talkfest “Dr. Phil” rakes in millions for CBS syndication.

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