“Bull” is based (rather loosely) on the early career of Phil McGraw, better known as “Dr. Phil,” who became acquainted with Oprah Winfrey while working as a trial consultant. In the CBS drama, Michael Weatherly plays Dr. Jason Bull, a psychologist who works with lawyers by profiling jurors and tweaking trials to his clients’ advantage. During proceedings, Bull can envision what the participants are really thinking, based on intuition (the show preposterously claims that he has three Ph.Ds in psychology). What he can’t analyze, technology provides: Bull’s firm has a data-gathering system for the jurors that would shame Homeland Security. And when not analyzing crucial figures in trials through algorithms, “Bull” is delving into the proliferation of social media, overlaying Instagrams and Facebook posts and viral news posts over dead bodies and crying loved ones.
Weatherly, who spent 13 seasons with “NCIS,” is an able charismatic lead — snarky and smart-alecky in a way that suggests both unnecessary toughness and vulnerability underneath it. His profession means that the show is constantly interested in social dynamics, identity politics, and personal histories; Bull tunes into the inner monologues of jurors from all walks of life.
But the show itself is totally ridiculous, in concept and execution. “I’ve won dozens of cases without this ‘woo-woo’ psychology,” a lawyer tells Bull, as if the science is some newfangled concept no more well-respected than healing crystals. Bull’s lone ability to “truly” understand humanity becomes wearying, just as the firm’s reliance on improbably sophisticated technology to achieve its goals is disturbing. The show is aware of its cynicism about both the law and psychology — after all, it romanticizes the weaponization of a skill used to treat illness, solely for the gain of rich people — but it may not be aware that it is also hilarious. In a climactic scene in the pilot, a witness declares, “I’m gay,” to which the lawyer coolly responds, “Is that where you were between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.?” Slick and oversimple “Bull” begs to not be taken seriously.