"Bull," 8 p.m. Tuesdays on CBS
One and a half stars (out of four)
I've been trying to figure out how fans of Michael Weatherly, who loved and will miss him so much as Tony DiNozzo on "NCIS," will react to his new show, "Bull," making its debut tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 20) on CBS.
I suspect the response will be split between "I'd watch him in anything!" and "Wait, he quit 'NCIS' for this?"
Technically, Weatherly has said, he didn't quit "NCIS" for "this." He left "NCIS" after 13 seasons because "it really felt like a circle that had gone all the way around," he told TV critics this summer in Los Angeles. "I really felt happy with the resolution of the character and my time on the show."
CBS, though, quickly snapped him up as the lead in "Bull," loosely based on the early life of Dr. Phil McGraw, who is an executive producer. Before he was a talk show host, McGraw worked as a trial consultant, and that is what Dr. Jason Bull does as well.
"I wasn’t burnt out by 'NCIS,' and I was ready for a new challenge," Weatherly says. "Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and that’s what this has been for me."
Unfortunately, "Bull" isn't good for viewers, despite coming from Paul Attanasio, whose credits include the great "Homicide: Life on the Street" and the long-running "House." It's annoying and, if studied too closely, nonsensical, pandering to DiNozzo fans by making Dr. Bull an even cooler and quippier character, with an overload of smug swagger. ("Psychologist, provocateur, ladies’ man," show runner Mark Goffman describes him.)
Bull runs Trial Analysis Corporation, dedicated to cracking the jury process to make sure defendants get off and not caring whether they are actually guilty. (Are we good with that?) The supporting cast includes Chris Jackson, late of Broadway's "Hamilton," wasted early on as a stylist who pretties up clients for their court appearances.
Each episode will apparently tackle one case, with viewers left in the dark about whether the client did it or not. The tactics are often uncomfortable, if you think about them (nothing about "Bull" benefits from close analysis), and so are the show's attempts to be hip and current to appeal to younger viewers than typically tune in to CBS dramas.
CBS already has (and has had) a lot of shows like "Bull," only better constructed and less annoying. Even Weatherly's most devoted fans may find this one a load of bull.