‘Bull’ Review: Michael Weatherly Reports for Jury Duty

The lead role was a wise casting choice, but too much in CBS’ procedural is predictable

bull michael weatherly cbs
David M. Russell/CBS

What would the world look like if Dr. Phil McGraw were incredibly good-looking, had his own successful trial-consulting firm and solved cases of the week by reading people? As it happens, Dr. Phil really was a jury consultant in his former life. For the rest of the fantasy, tune into CBS’s new procedural dramedy, “Bull.”

The hour-long format stars former “NCIS” star Michael Weatherly in the leading role of Jason Bull, a know-it-all, fast-talking consultant who, for a high fee, helps top lawyers select their juries. Then, because this is high-stakes television, Bull and his super stealthy team of analysts (Freddy Rodriguez, Jaime Lee Kirschner) take it one step further and help bring the real guilty parties to light. Or at least that’s how it all goes down in the pilot.

Of course the series is based on Dr. Phil’s career before he became the TV shrink everyone knows today, but the consulting firm is pretty much where the similarities stop. McGraw serves as one of the show’s co-creators and a producer, but he’s made it clear that this is a highly fictionalized account.

Weatherly, a popular CBS staple thanks to his long-running duties as DiNozzo on the aforementioned “NCIS,” was a wise choice for the role since he comes with his own inherent fan base. It’s no wonder the smart scheduling gods over at the network slotted this one in immediately following that show on Tuesday nights; Weatherly is easily recognizable with or without the wide-rimmed specs.

Unfortunately, he may not be enough to keep viewers tuned in. Sure, those looking for the tried-and-true procedural format will find plenty to watch in the case-of-the-week episodes, and maybe even feel as though they’re getting something new thanks to the advanced technology and psychological twists. But at the end of the day this is a format that’s been recycled so many times over the years on this network. While it often works, any surprise on “Bull” is not something viewers can count on.

As far as the pilot goes, the case tugs on viewers’ heartstrings by involving teens and a heartbreaking murder (don’t they all?) and caps it all off with high-stakes courtroom scenes that are so beyond over-the-top that they often border on comical. But then again this is billing itself as a “dramedy,” so maybe that’s the point. Weatherly certain sells the comedy side with his quips and quick delivery, at any rate.

The interesting scenes are the ones featuring Bull digging into other characters’ psyches, and watching how people react when they figure out they’ve been “read.” It’s almost as though Patrick Jane and “The Mentalist” have been resurrected, except now we’re in a courtroom and there’s no Red John storyline propelling the story forward. Again, CBS has a lot of experience with this format.

If you’re tired of high-concept dramas and serialized offerings that require far too much viewing time in your already jam-packed schedule, “Bull” is certainly a light, breezy offering that could help you unwind after a long Tuesday. But if you’re looking for something with a little more meat and meaning, you’re going to have to visit another courtroom.

“Bull” premieres Sept. 20 on CBS.