Bull

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

Had a fight with your husband? There, there. Tell Bull all about it. Love the lottery? Bull wants to know how often you buy tickets. Think guacamole is the yummiest thing ever? Well, maybe Bull doesn’t care much about that … unless, of course, you’ve been called for jury duty and your curious love of avocados might statistically make you more inclined to convict his client. If that’s the case, you can bet he’ll be locked in on your guac.

Dr. Jason Bull is a trial consultant—one with more Ph.D.s than feet and a better win record than Bill Belichick.

Think a trial is decided by good, old-fashioned detective work? Lots of CBS procedurals would like you to believe that. Dedicated lawyers making impassioned speeches? CBS has a show or two like that on the docket, too. But in this CBS procedural, the focus is not on an autopsy or an argument, but on the jury. And it’s Bull’s job to make sure that every jury comes to the same conclusions he did—no matter what the evidence or those obnoxious lawyers might say.

Taking This Show by the Horns

Bull’s in the business of jury selection. Not jury tampering, technically—though some might argue that his ability to manipulate the process is a bit like counting cards at the blackjack table. The psychologist uses his understanding of the human mind, reams of statistics and his own gut to make sure that the standard “jury of one’s peers” is manipulated for the good of his often well-paying client.

(Bull’s profession isn’t a fictional construct, by the way. Indeed, Bull is based on the experiences of none other than “Dr. Phil” McGraw, who was a trial consultant himself before becoming a famous TV shrink.)

But this work calls for more than just one guy. So Bull’s aided by a host of experts: Marissa Morgan is a neurolinguistics whiz from Homeland Security, tasked with studying stats and creating algorithms to predict how a juror might react. Taylor Rentzel, Marissa’s former Homeland Security pal, handles the computers as an international banking cyber-investigator who works to hack any system Bull deems necessary. Danny James came from the FBI and now serves as the team’s investigator. Chunk Palmer, a former football player and the team’s gay stylist, makes sure Bull’s clients are dressed particularly winsomely. Benny Colon, Bull’s ex-brother-in-law, plays the lawyer on all Bull’s mock trials.

Together, they comb through the digital footprint and psychological makeup of jurors to figure out where their pain points might be. Or, conversely, where they might be particularly sympathetic. Is Bull’s latest client a cat burglar—like, someone who actually steals cats? Yeah, guilty or not, Bull might want to avoid the would-be juror who tweets out pictures of all 27 of hers. Has Bull been hired by an organic gardener accused of killing a customer with a radish? Why, that lady who belongs to all those militant vegan groups might be just the ticket to getting his client cleared.

Oh, and Bull’s hardly lets a little thing like the law—y’know, the thing that he’s supposed to be serving—get in the way of defending his always-innocent clients. If a well-timed blackout might get a juror to think twice about his client’s guilt, he has no qualms about asking Cable to hack into the juror’s apartment.

We, Plugged In, Find the Defendant …

Guilt and innocence have been a staple of the television diet practically since television was invented. Viewers are fascinated with crime, cops and court, and CBS has been particularly adept at making the process feel, if not new, at least newish. Its CSI shows made forensics cool. Its NCIS series of series brought a little military culture into that mix.

Now, the Tiffany Network turns its corporate eye toward another little-understood aspect of crime and punishment: the behind-the-scenes jockeying for sympathetic jurors and the never-ending effort to subconsciously sway them in ways that might not have a thing to do with the actual case. “We’ll know how they vote even before they do,” Morgan brags.

If you think there’s something creepy about that, you’re not alone. The Los Angeles Times called it “a procedural made for the Year of the Rigged.”

We can be thankful in the context of the show, I suppose, that Bull always defends the folks whom we’re supposed to be rooting for. He’s a bit of a lovable cad, but he’s not in it for the money. He’ll take a case with the longest of odds if he’s convinced it’s the right thing to do.

“Most people hear a man confessed to murder and they think [he’s] guilty,” Morgan says. “You hear a man confess and you give up a fortune to represent him.”

“It’s great to be me, isn’t it?” Bull says, smirking.

We can also be grateful that Bull—despite the sneaky little nod the show’s title gives to another more objectionable phrase—is pretty light in terms of content. While the personal and dating lives of Bull’s staff come up in conversation, this is not a show that spends an inordinate amount of time in the bedroom. Because its focus is on the trial rather than the investigation, audiences aren’t overly exposed to gory murder scenes or bloody autopsies. Even the language, by today’s broadcast standards, is relatively restrained.

Still, Bull’s methods—both above and below board—are at times ethically troubling (perhaps a bit like Michael Weatherly, the guy who plays him. He was recently accused of sexual harassment, leaving the future of Bull unknown). Even though Bull always knows who’s guilty or innocent, his ability to get jurors to reach that same conclusion can be bothersome and sometimes flat-out illegal. This CBS procedural turns the legal process into a contest in which the guy with the best stats, most computers and the least ethical qualms wins.

Episode Reviews

Nov. 5, 2018: “A Girl Without Feelings”

Bull and his team work to try and acquit a former client—a young woman and known sociopath—who has just been accused of murdering her brother. But it might be difficult to convince a jury when the suspect is incapable of empathy.

A woman wakes up to find her brother dead on the ground, lying next to a pair of scissors and covered in blood. She too is covered in blood and wears a torn shirt, revealing her bra. Bottles of liquor are smashed in anger and a verbal altercation ensues. Sketches of a naked man and woman involved in violent activity hang on a wall. Other violent sketches include a woman viciously stabbing a man.

A man is thrown in jail for selling marijuana, cocaine, a sedative often used in date rape and other drugs at a party. Men and women drink beer and hard liquor. A witness is convicted of using a date rape drug (roofies) and raping two women. A woman admits that she was previously molested by her therapist. A couple lay in bed together: He is shirtless and she wears a revealing top. Later, she’s seen in her underwear while putting on pants. A man casually mentions seeing his love interest naked and makes an off-hand comment about sex. “D–n” is heard twice.

Bull: May 8, 2018 “Death Sentence”

Dr. Jason Bull and his team work together to acquit their client who has been convicted of capital murder. Marissa realizes that her codependency on Bull is unhealthy and she considers resigning.

In a dream, Bull kisses his ex-wife (who’s about to re-marry in real life). Marissa attends counseling for her codependent habits. A man is convicted of raping a woman, killing her family and burning down their home (we see none of these things). The child of the family mournfully testifies. Lawyers and other defendants yell. A few women wear tops revealing cleavage. Someone has a heart attack. Others drink liquor. God’s name is misused once and other words such as “h—” and “d–n” are heard.

Bull: Oct. 25, 2016 “Just Tell the Truth”

When a billionaire’s daughter is killed, her parents want to hire Bull’s firm to bring the presumed perpetrator—the daughter’s penniless fiancé—to justice. It seems like easy money, given that the suspect confessed to the crime. But once Bull sees the taped confession—one that took more than 11 hours to extract—Bull decides to defend the guy instead.

We see blurry images of the girl struggle with her unseen killer, hear a clang and then see her body fall to the ground, blood streaming out of her ear. Later, a picture of the victim’s head bears a small, jagged wound. The billionaire punches Bull in the face. Holding an icepack to his jaw, Bull insists that it’s not broken. “I’ve been punched before,” he says. “Girlfriends don’t count,” someone tells him.

To convince members of the jury that it is possible for someone to admit to a crime they didn’t actually commit, Bull has his team hack into an elevator in which jurors are riding and stop it—then make it appear as if the elevator’s about to fall. The jurors lie to the woman on the other line of a service call (actually one of Bull’s employees), claiming someone’s going into cardiac arrest and that they need rescue immediately. Bull later has the lawyer weave key words like “claustrophobic” and the sense that sometimes people will do anything to “escape” an intolerable situation, drawing subconscious parallels between the juror’s top-of-mind experience and the accused’s 11-hour ordeal at the police station.

Champagne is served at a fancy benefit. Bull and his staff rehash events at a bar, with pretty much everyone holding a beer or drink. Cable and others do an online search on Chunk’s latest male date. There’s a mention of a suspect’s sexual assault conviction. Characters say “b–ch” twice, “d–n” once and “h—” three times.

May 13, 2019: “Pillar of Salt”

Bull and his team work to clear the name of a young woman accused of murdering her stepdaughter. Bull and friend/colleague, Benny Colón, get into a heated argument when Benny finds that Bull is the reason his sister (and Bull’s ex-wife) is getting a divorce.

A mother, father and stepmother grieve when their young girl dies of a salt overdose. (The little girl is briefly shown with bruises on her back.) This same little girl is, after death, diagnosed with a disease that made her overeat. (we hear the child would eat until she vomited). Benny tackles Bull and punches him in the face. (He’s left with a bloody lip.)

We hear that Bull has an affair with his ex-wife who later confesses she’s pregnant with his baby. Couples kiss. A married woman is seen sleeping in a nightgown. A woman learns her husband is infertile.

A man consumes an abundance of hard liquor. God’s name is misused three times. A woman says she “swears on the Bible.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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