This year, CBS has apparently decided to put a drama pilot against one another and pick-up the best (or the easiest one to market). For their police procedural needs, it’s probably Nancy Drew against MacGyver; on the action side, it’s Training Day against Four Stars; in the medical genre, it was supposed to be Bunker Hill against Sensory, but the latter has been pushed to a fall shooting, so now it’s more of Bunker Hill against a possible Code Black season 2; and in the legal department, to succeed to The Good Wife, it’s Doubt –rolled from last year with a new pilot– against Bull. It’s writers from Grey’s Anatomy against the so famous and beloved Dr Phil. It’s Katherine Heigl against Michael Weatherly, who’s just departing from hit NCIS. There’s still a chance CBS orders both, especially since both are said to be well regarded, but if they have to choose just one… I’d say Bull has the upper hand. One thing’s for sure: none of them is the next The Good Wife. None of them is that good. They are both very different and they both bring something to the table. But not something new. And not something people are craving for.
Bull is kind of a nightmare to me, as a reader. It’s one thing to watch a procedural, it’s another one to read a procedural script, especially when it’s a pilot. Trust me. It can get very boring very fast. You’re thrown into this world where you have a hundred of characters, most of them already know each other, there are the lawyers, the consultants, the clients… Their personnality is described in one sentence. You don’t get to learn much more about them as the episode progresses since they are not here to talk about their problems and fears and god knows what else but to solve a case, help other people. So you tend to confound them. You even have a hard time remembering their names. And there’s this hero you are forced to like by the writers, because he has a sense of humor and because whatever he says or does he’s a good person inside. And the show is co-wrote by the person who inspired him so it means the grey areas of the character are not that grey. And the whole thing is just not pleasant to read. Bull‘s script is certainly not a page turner, but as the case evolves, with some twists and turns on the way, it becomes interesting. The closing argument part is really strong, for example. Too late probably. But it’s better later than never, I guess.
Bull is not your typical legal drama though, and for one good reason: the heroes are not the lawyers but the people helping the lawyers decide which strategy is the best, based on complex psychological analysis and mock trials. The TSI headquarters are a giant place with fake courtrooms, focus-group rooms with a one-way glass, a graphic design studio, a computer reasearch room… And all they do all day is analyse the jurors. Imagine the outcomes. And of course, sometimes, they are the ones who investigate and discover the truth. Because the show has to resemble to a police procedural at some point, whether it’s accurate about this job or not. Come on, we’re on CBS! I thought it was all very exhausting in the end. It’d be great for a special episode of a legal show. Or if it was just one department inside a firm with a larger story. But following these people doing this load of work every week? Nope. Then again, maybe it’s just me…
And you know what else I didn’t appreciate? The overwhelming writing. It overflows with details and ideas. People are too often talking at the same time, in front of the camera for “interviews”. Too many split screens. Too many montages, of Instagram photos for example. One montage in particular I hated: Bull having “moments” with his team. Bull laughing with someone. Bull hugging this other someone. Bull lunching with her and her. Bull smoking with him… The writers may have thought this montage was enough to show us how close Bull is with his team members, how cool a person he is. But no. It’s so lazy and so fake! We don’t really care about him, except if you’re a huge fan of Dr Phil, maybe. That’s where casting Weatherly is a brilliant idea. Not that he is an exceptional actor, but people love him, presumably, so the character suddenly sounds more interesting than he is on the page. The other characters are all the same for now.
Is CBS capable of rejecting a pilot with Michael Weatherly as the lead? I don’t think so. To bank on NCIS success, they will order it no matter what. Does it make sense? Do NCIS fans can be interested in Bull? I don’t have the answer since I don’t get why they watch NCIS in the first place, for 14 years! But I’m pretty sure Bull is not that a solid legal drama and shouldn’t move further in a better world. But it will. So all bets are off!