Take Me to the Pilots '16: CBS' 'Bull'

Michael Weatherly growls incessantly for 42 minutes in this pilot with no visible ties to Dr. Phil.
David M. Russell / CBS
Michael Weatherly of 'Bull'

[I'll remind you at the top of every single one of these: These entries are not reviews. They're gut reactions to not-for-air pilots that could change in big and small ways between now and September or October or midseason. Full reviews will come then. They'll be longer. And more carefully considered. The opinions may even change. Who knows?]

Show: Bull (CBS)
The Pitch: "It's based on the life of Dr. Phil! Only not the part anybody will recognize." "Oh." "And with an actor who looks nothing like Dr. Phil." "Oh." "And with a different name." "Oh." "Fine. It's The Jury Whisperer."
Quick Response: It's about 10 minutes into the Bull pilot, which already wasn't going well, when the characters all chime in to list the main character's credentials, beyond a droning growl and thick-framed glasses, and one raves that he has "3 PhDs in psychology." Ugh. The "3 PhDs in psychology" line is the Bull equivalent of the first edition of The Iliad line that people like to mock from The Boy Next Door, because it's one of those lines where somebody (or somebodies) in the production — a director, a producer, an editor, an actor, a network development exec — had to know that this line of dialogue was the stupidest possible way to illustrate the intelligence of the main character, but every person along the way just didn't care. Nobody involved thought it was worth stepping in to not have something that bad in the pilot. That care is reflected throughout. The "3 PhDs in psychology" line may be the pilot's nadir, but it's a low point approached by nearly everything in the second half of the pilot as a reasonably fine premise — jury analysis is a complicated and high-tech business — is squandered on a ridiculous case-of-the-week, building up to an "emotional" climax that is either horrible, if meant to be taken literally, or unintentionally provocative if interpreted (clearly against the intention of the creators) to suggest the main character's mental instability. Michael Weatherly delivers every line in the same growl, sometimes for wry effect but generally into a white-noise abyss. And no other piece of the ensemble imprints as anything more than an occupation recruited by Bull for his jury-manipulating purposes. The best thing about the pilot is that, at the very least, I see how it establishes a repeatable template for a series that will probably be very popular on CBS. I still remain baffled that this was co-created by Paul Attanasio, a writer I've always really respected. I can't believe he wrote the "3 PhDs in psychology" scene.
Desire to Watch Again: Almost none, but I'll watch whatever CBS sends me pre-premiere for reviewing purposes. After that, I'll leave it to its success without me.

Take Me to the Pilots '16: The NBC's 'Timeless'
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Take Me to the Pilots '16: The CW's 'No Tomorrow'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: Fox's 'Pitch'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: CBS' 'Kevin Can Wait'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: NBC's 'The Good Place'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: ABC's 'Designated Survivor'
All of My 2015 Take Me to the Pilots Entries

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