×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Inside Bill’s Brain’

A certain type of documentary has grown in prevalence and popularity lately — the piece that marshals evidence in service of the case that a very widely known contemporary figure is actually even greater than one had previously thought. The vogue began in summer 2018 with the features “RBG” (about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (about children’s television personality Fred Rogers) and has continued with documentaries about figures as varied as Toni Morrison, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Luciano Pavarotti — and now, in Netflix’s three-episode documentary series “Inside Bill’s Brain,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Shepherded by Davis Guggenheim (an Oscar-winner for “An Inconvenient Truth”), we’re walked through the tech founder and humanitarian’s personal history in a manner that grows stultifying the more praise gets ladled on. It’s not that Gates’s current endeavors don’t merit attention and applause: It’s that very little in human experience merits quite so uncritical a gaze.

This latest entry in the celebrity-hagiography file has all the hallmarks of its genre. We are given the appearance of access to a figure more iconic than deeply known, both through archival footage and through interviews. Friends and contemporaries show up to deliver testimonials. And there’s a big, underlined theme: That Gates’s brain, per the title, is a unique and precious thing we are lucky to have in our time, even if understanding its workings is a bit beyond us. 

A lot of the work towards that theme is tiresome and, frankly, a bit unbecoming as a way to depict a very successful person in his 60s. A fellow credited onscreen as a former marketing director of Microsoft tells us that “he reads really fast and synthesizes really well. The most amazing thing is, he almost always knows more than the other person he’s talking to about whatever it is, it’s unbelievable.” Gates is an eminence, not a precocious youth, and the report-card retelling that he’s a quick thinker is unnecessary given his successes. Being told, at some length, that he can read quickly and on serious matters is a bit past the point. Worse, the access to Gates himself is illusory. Gates, not in a particularly reflective mood and hardly pushed towards openness by his interlocutor, grudgingly fields opening questions about his favorite animal and, even when the questions get a bit harder, is easily left off the hook. In the documentary’s final minutes, Guggenheim asks Gates about his philanthropic attempts to solve public health crises: “Last question, and I’m going to be tough on you: Is there a part when you say, ‘this is way too hard, I took on too much, I quit’?” Gates, a recessive presence onscreen who gives the director just what he asks for and not a whit more, doesn’t have to deliver the job-interview cliché that his greatest flaw is that he’s a hard worker. Guggenheim does it for him. Elsewhere, the question of his strained relationship with late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is treated by the film but only glanced at in the time Guggenheim and Gates share on-camera.

The documentary might inoculate itself against charges of being quite so in the bag for its subject were it a bit more serious about the aspects of Bill’s brain that are less easily lauded: his notorious competitiveness and the ways in which it expressed itself, for instance. The U.S. government’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft is broached in the film’s final 10 minutes; we’re told Gates cried at the case’s conclusion given that he felt “vindicated.” In the scope of his life, the means by which Gates’s company was alleged to have stifled competition unfairly is almost certainly a less important story than his vast outlays of time, resources, and creativity on charitable endeavors. But it might, maybe, be more revealing of the character and soul of the man than the fact that he reads fast and well.

In all, “Inside Bill’s Brain” sheds light on that which Gates does, from the prosaic (reading) to the grand-scale (seeking to eliminate preventable death due to disease). But it, contrary to its title, has little insight into the person that he is. It knows, merely, that he is great. And given the three-hour investment of time one is asked to make here, that’s not nearly enough.

“Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.” Netflix. Sept. 20. Three episodes (all screened for review).

Executive Producers: Davis Guggenheim, Shannon Dill, Jonathan Silberberg, and Nicole Stott

TV Review: 'Inside Bill's Brain'

More TV

  • Al Burton

    Al Burton, 'Jeffersons' and 'Diff’rent Strokes' Producer, Dies at 91

    Television producer and executive Al Burton, known for his work on “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, California. He was 91. Burton leaves behind a six-decade legacy of hit television shows that also included “One Day at a Time,” “Silver Spoons,” “Square Pegs” and “Facts of Life.” However, long [...]

  • Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal

    Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal at WarnerMedia

    Dwayne Wade is bouncing his way into WarnerMedia’s court. The retired NBA All Star has signed a multi-faceted, multi-year deal with the company, including a development deal via his 59th & Prairie Entertainment production banner. Part of the deal sees Wade sign on as a commentator at Turner Sports. He is set to make appearances [...]

  • Katie Couric Sheryl Sandberg

    Katie Couric Steamrolls Sheryl Sandberg in Roving Vanity Fair Summit Interview

    Sending a jolt through a luxurious and excessively polite afternoon in Beverly Hills, veteran journalist Katie Couric delivered a relentless series of hardball questions to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday. Speaking in conversation at the sixth annual Vanity Fair New Establishment summit at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Couric’s [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    CBS Renews 'Evil,' Orders Full Seasons of Four Other Freshman Shows

    CBS is doubling down on all its new shows. The network has renewed “Evil” for a second season, and handed out full-season orders to its other four freshman series, namely “All Rise,” “Carol’s Second Act,” “The Unicorn,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “Evil” is set to conclude its 13-episode first season (creators Michelle and Robert King [...]

  • Jamie Lee Curtis

    Jamie Lee Curtis to Produce Military Drama With Put Pilot Order at Fox

    Jamie Lee Curtis is teaming up with April Fitzsimmons and Berlanti Productions for a drama project that has received a put pilot order at Fox. Titled “Chain of Command,” the one-hour project follows a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content