'Pure Genius': TV Review

Sonja Flemming/CBS
Unplug this dud.
10/27/2016

Jason Katims, who has a long history of excellent shows, now has a terrible one on CBS about a tech billionaire and his gadget-heavy hospital.

The best thing about Pure Genius is that it's laugh-out-loud funny, which CBS can't say about any of its new sitcoms. Of course, Pure Genius is a drama that's not actually supposed to be funny, so there you go.

If you were expecting something wholly different and wholly better from Jason Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, The Path), then you can get in the back of a very long line. But good hitters strike out, too, and Katims has whiffed very badly here. The short description of Pure Genius is that tech "billionaire genius" James Bell (Augustus Prew), whom you want to punch in the face pretty much in every scene (sorry, Augustus), has created a hospital that brings together the most brilliant minds in medicine and the most brilliant minds in technology. Bell says this, so it's true, though not everything he says is true and you'll know when he's lying, which he does in one crucial scene that's not crucial enough to make the concept interesting.

Anyway, Bell has poured his money into Bunker Hill Hospital in San Francisco, which is a gleaming beacon of architecture and technology very clearly not in San Francisco, and he's lured the best and brightest there to play with his ridiculously hilarious tech toys.

I should note here that every time I run across technology on TV and sense — as a non-professional — that it's poorly done, that each cool gadget or device or action taken by someone in that tech environment is actually Not a Thing, I run it by my friend, podcast partner and former Macworld editor Jason Snell, who almost always dies with laughter and duly notes that it is, in fact, Not a Thing.

Then he begs to not be forced to watch any more episodes.

Wow, wait until he sees Pure Genius, where the computers and tablets are translucent, the phones little more than Lucite and white lights and there's talk of fetal-monitoring ingestibles. And someone actually says, out loud: "It's a tiny supercomputer. The patient takes it orally, like any other pill."

Give yourself a second to go back and read that again. Because, on some level, it's pure genius.

When a skeptical doctor played by Dermot Mulroney asks what if, say, the edible supercomputer lands in the wrong spot when you eat it, another doctor-technician type says, "It'll be the first ingestible in the world with motion control," — because of course. Also, it's guided by magnets and apparently it's fine to eat magnets now, which is good to know.

There was another bit of dialogue I laughed so hard at that I had to play it back three times to write it down correctly, and, for the life of me, I can't believe this is right, but this is what I wrote down: "It's a flexible, adhesive computer. With bioactive gel interface."

It still makes me laugh. I may have the last part wrong because of, well, the laughing, but also because Prew is a British actor playing American with an accent, or lack thereof, or weird vocal tone that I can't quite place or really understand, along with facial tics (particularly the Steve Jobs-esque one) that provoke a desire to punch his face through the screen. In either case, it was hard to focus.

I have no idea what Katims is doing here, other than relying on the concept of cool technology in the medical space to tell an ostensibly fresher story in a very tired genre. The execution, however, is mostly larded with Not a Thing-type moments and so much emphasis on the technology that you'll never care about the patients. That might also be due to the fact that their cases are all pretty ridiculous. As in, so ridiculous the act of explaining them would make you think I was pranking you. Let me put this headset on and transfer what I really think about this show over to you without actually saying or writing the words, and in, say, 15 seconds or so, my thoughts will magically go into your headset, and then your brain — and you will in turn nod your head in agreement that The Hollywood Reporter would have never, ever printed all those bad words I'm sending you telepathically.

By the way, the headset scene does happen in the pilot. Minus all my foul thoughts.

There was an endless amount to dislike in Pure Genius, including the actual use of the word "homeboy" to a scene where Mulroney's mopey slab of a character gets to work on a 3D printed heart with a blue tumor on it while other doctor-tech types eat popcorn and watch him — all while in an office space that looks like it was reconstructed from the memory of some dork who claimed he had a day pass to Google or Twitter and remembered how cool it was.

Look, maybe Katims needs a bunch of easy money, which is why most people go to CBS these days. Hard to fault that. The network can make a hit out of the thinnest gruel because it has a devoted low-bar audience that doesn't put up much of a fight when it comes to standards. For a lot of creative types (actors, writers, directors), it's important to say 11 million people watched their show last week, even if that discussion happens at a cocktail party where nobody has ever willingly watched CBS.

Better to go stream almost any of Katim's other shows rather than Pure Genius (which is, let's be honest, the last title any creative person would agree to if there wasn't a big check involved). But if you're bored and feeling masochistic, by all means, watch away. After all, there's a scene in the pilot where a man says of a tech device, "So this idiotic thing might have just saved my life?"

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Augustus Prew, Odette Annable, Reshma Shetty, Aaron Jennings, Ward Horton, Brenda Song
Created by: Jason Katims
Written by: Jason Katims, Sarah Watson
Airs: Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT (CBS)

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

 

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