Verdict still out on new CBS legal drama

Photo courtesy of CBS

Psychologist Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly, “NCIS”) is the man behind the curtain at the Trial Analysis Corporation — not to be confused with jury analysis consultation; there is a world of difference between the two. “Bull,” based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s (“The Dr. Phil Show”) previous career as a trial consultant, premiered Sep. 20 at 9 pm EST on CBS.

The series features Dr. Bull and his team of experts as they analyze, predict, and swing the jury using methods that may veer off the yellow brick road of the law.

In the first episode, Brandon Peters, son of billionaire Pete Peters, is being accused of the murder of a teenage drug dealer, Alyssa Yang. With a team of lawyers in tow, Brandon’s father hires Dr. Bull to take care of his son. To
the benefit of the audience, Marissa explains just how their defense strategy is derived through profiling jurors, mirror juries and
mock trials. The mock jury is observed by a wall of cameras, and their hands placed on devices monitor various physiological responses to the words of the lawyer. All information is fed into a matrix “which is scary in its predictive efficiency.”

To cover every aspect of the defense, Bull has a gifted team consisting of Benny Colon (Freddy Rodriquez, “Six Feet Under”), the brilliant attorney hand-picked by Bull to run his mock trials; Chuck Palmer (Christopher Jackson, “Gossip Girl”), the stylist who is responsible for the final touches; Marissa Morgan (Geneva Carr, Broadway star), the neurolinguistics expert who was previously employed by Homeland Security; former NYPD Detective Danny James (Jamie Lee Kirchner, “The Mob Doctor”) and hacker Cable McCrory (Annabelle Attanasio, “The Knick”).

Though Bull can hardly go wrong with this extraordinary team, it is his expertise in human behavior and highly developed observational skills that enable him to “read” the jury and know exactly what they are thinking that sets him apart.

From the get go, the lead lawyer is wary of Dr. Bull and his “woo woo psychology.” Even though he is cautious, he does not seem to listen to his own accusations as he tells Bull “you’re a con man, but you haven’t conned me.” This occurs seconds before Bull lifts the watch of his arm, with the seasoned skill of a pick pocket in order to have it bugged. He will stop at nothing to gather the information he needs to win.

Dr. Bull believes that “the old jingle” of innocent until proven guilty is a thing of the past. Juries come in with preconceived notions before the opening arguments of the case are even made. His team follows the jurors throughout the trial believing that anticipating their verdicts from the moment they take their seats is the key to winning.

The show edges onto legal drama ground, as the basis of Dr. Bull’s work focuses on jury trials, checking off a box at CBS, who just saw fan favorite “The Good Wife” end in the spring. Bull mixes perception, detective work and science into his trial analysis. This is far different from
most current series in the genre but is not the first of its kind. The show is slightly reminiscent of “Lie to Me” which focused on bringing to light deception by analyzing micro-expressions on the human face.

There are a lot of clichés; most blatant is the hacker in the beanie, sweater and jeans. The well-placed fortune cookie sayings of Bull are part of his charm. While his client balks at revealing personal truths on the stand, Dr. Bull tells him, “don’t give up on people, they’re all we’ve got.”

Slightly disappointing is the use of this visual gimmick where the jurors “speak to” Bull so that the audience knows that he got it right. What may have worked hilariously for Mel Gibson in “What Women Want” comes off less stylistic and more so an easy out for the writers, Paul Attanasio (“House”) and Dr. Phil McGraw. They should have relied on the audience believing in the premise of Bull’s abilities.

Weatherly is taking a huge career risk as he moves from being an “NCIS” regular cast member, to the main character of “Bull.” It is highly unlikely that “Bull” will gain critical acclaim, or a number of seasons that remotely resembles his former show, but it is an exciting premise. Although the intrigue was not at the scale of “The Good Wife,” it also did not seem to be trying to take its spot.

The analysis of behavior patterns brings the world of law and technology together. It will be interesting if the show continues to use the technology as a prop. The pilot fell prey to the use of gadgets to drum up interest, but it could be more entertaining to delve
into the intricacies and possibilities that the new era of science brings into jury analysis. “Bull” still has a few more episodes to sway the audience as well as he sways his juries, let’s hope he does so just in time to be able to predict a season renewal.