Bull Loses His Polish in Season Premiere “School For Scandal”

The return of last year’s darling rookie show was met with some trepidation as new hands behind the scenes had been hard at work, re-framing much of what we’d come to know about our beloved T.A.C. team.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Right off the bat, the tone of the show is decidedly different. Gone is the “person on the street” montage segment, reflecting various people’s perspective on the episode’s central theme. Instead, Michael Weatherly’s dulcet tones voices over a bit about human nature’s hunger for scandal.

And then we get a very Murder, She Wrote -esque scene in which billionaire jerk, Marcus Clayton (Ronald Guttman, Preacher) is shot to death by his young wife, Kara (Minka Kelly, Friday Night Lights) after she stabs herself in a variety of places to create her self-defense case.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

When we finally get to see the team (in a montage set to a cheery little tune), Marissa’s on transit reading a tabloid, Benny watches TV while shaving, and Danny apparently gets her news from the Times Square ticker, while at least Cable plays true to character and gets updated on the case via smart phone.

We find our mighty leader in the Clayton Communication headquarters being courted by their team of lawyers, although the Chief Operating Officer’s comment about offering him a job feels a bit condescending. Meanwhile, he’s courting Callisto spitfire, Ms. Lindsay, via text message which perked me up as Jill Flint’s visits are always a good time.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Returning to the T.A.C. offices, we find Chunk acting a little odd and Marissa worried about fiscal solvency. And this is where I start to have that feeling that I’ve slipped sideways into a parallel universe.

There are a few truths we had learned and accepted in the debut season. One, T.A.C. is really, really good at what they do and has a reputation that reflects that. Two, they are paid well for their successes. Three, Bull picks cases based on his whimsy (sorry, “gut feeling”) and interesting “white hat” cases trump cash pay loads every time.

So hearing him flippantly comment “who cares?” in reference to how the Clayton incident actually played out is jarring to say the least. Also, Marissa’s obvious concern about the state of the books is a bit like learning the Tooth Fairy could go bankrupt. Finally, Bull’s whole demeanor feels akin to the mighty hunter returning with a kill to feed the starving village. There’s a desperate note that is at odds with the calm cool we’d come to know.

The relationships in Bull have always been a major appeal factor. At its core, Marissa and Bull are the foundation on which T.A.C. is built and thrives. Lines that start, “I had no idea the famous Dr. Jason Bull …,” should never be spoken by Marissa. Ever. E-VER.

Jill Flint’s Diana Lindsay is my favorite recurring character on this show. But even she can’t make post-coital shadow puppets feel anything but weird.

Her segue from pillow talk to business is more in keeping with her Callisto no-holds-barred attitude but her discord about the case is odd considering how often they’ve faced off against each other in the past.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Bull not being prepared for the Clayton team is another alternate reality moment. Our Bull plays to win, knows the moves of the game and all possible twists and turns. Who is this guy who has to spin a sales pitch and dumb down jury analysis science to convince a client T.A.C. knows what it’s doing? Later, he argues that his expenses are necessary to project the right image to clients. I know T.A.C. is not a con but it feels con-adjacent when he says that.

And again with dumping the relationships. Bull and Chunk had such a cool bro vibe last season. Chunk’s faith in Bull’s abilities and Bull’s trust in Chunk’s judgement really cemented Chunk as the warm, beating heart of the team.

Here, we get a Bull who makes snide remarks about wardrobe choices and then mansplains the LSAT to the guy who took it. What the actual heck? Yes, he tells Marissa that he values Chunk but the authenticity has been lost in this new framing.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

When he presents the Widow Clayton with the corporation’s settlement offer and she gives her rehearsed speech about being stabbed, Bull’s super powers kick in and he spots the lie in the woman lying in the hyperbaric chamber. It’s quite the relief to see that there’s one thing that hasn’t changed too much.

Season 2 seems to have re-written methodology as well. Splitting up the jury pool members among the team contradicts last season’s established reliance on Cable, Queen of the Deep Dive. It makes no sense with team members as specialized as these to assign investigation to Chunk, Benny, or Marissa.

Voir dire is always such a key scene on this show and, fittingly, my singular shining moment of goodness was the random appearance of the ageless Anna Holbrook, Sharlene from Another World, as Juror 17. (I always go to my happy place when Another World alumni show up on my TV.)

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Juror 39, Bull’s queen bee selection hailing from Callisto, TX, with a tell-tale accent when she talks to her mother, as a red herring planted juror is an odd loose end device that triggers Bull into a raging bully who screams and throws things at Danny in front of the whole team. And if he wasn’t unlikable enough at this point, his accusatory call to Diana is the jury consultant equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum.

The courtroom climax is suitably dramatic. Both Diana and Benny question Mrs. Clayton to great effect. It’s kind of too bad that her story is more full of holes than she is.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Another voiceover to end the episode and a reprise of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” as we get a bookend scene of the team getting well-deserved bonuses and Chunk’s scholarship. Cut away for a quick farewell and all’s well feel-good moment with Bull and Diana and then the music’s back. Jury’s out on this new format, introduced in the finale of last season. It’s a departure for the show and yet a throwback to shows from an older era.

Season 2 of Bull is definitely shaking things up and to such an extant, I’ll need to give it the Three Episode Grace I usually reserve for brand new shows. Maybe with some more episodes, I’ll connect with these new incarnations of the friends I made last year.

Bull airs Tuesday night on CBS at 9pm ET/PT.

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  1. I don’t think the friction is out of whack. No one is 100% copacetic all the time. Everyone has friction with coworkers and it often goes in waves. I think the number of pro bono cases Bull has been taking is why the fiscal stress exists, why Marissa leans on him, and is sarcasming him. We forget Marissa is the COO – she works for Bull but in many ways, he works for her too because she is responsible for making TAC work.

    I think you missed the time crunch in the 24 hours they had to profile the jurors. That’s why it wasn’t just Cable, and I think it shows Cable’s skill because she wouldn’t have missed that. She is all about the details, not the context.

    At its heart, TAC is a successful bespoke business with high overhead and it’s ability to produce is only as good as it’s last case. The financial concern is natural and real; we just got used to idea of money not mattering because white hat.

    Glad you’re back to reviewing! I enjoy your perspective.

    • Diana Keng says:

      Thanks for reading, Mary, this was a show that surprised me with its twist on the court room procedural genre last season and I do want to give the changes a chance.
      To respond to your points in order:
      1) I feel like there’s a foundation to this show and that is the team. Bull himself makes that clear as early as the “Callisto” episode where he admits he lost an early case because he thought he could do it all himself. In keeping with that, he was always and without fail respectful of his team members (until the final three episodes last season). No, they don’t have to always get along but the new tone is one of boss-employee and he isn’t a nice boss so far. A boss capable of apologizing, yes, but since he reverts to jerk boss in Episode 2, not one capable of changing. The Marissa dynamic is also a departure from Season 1 where she does mention fiscal issues but where he isn’t a money over matter sort of business man.
      2) I didn’t miss the time crunch but Season one established that Cable has worked on shorter timelines with larger jury pools. I think what really bothers me here is that the new show runner has either not watched/understood what made this show fun before he took over or has deliberately chosen to throw it all out. Our team is made up of superheroes. Flawed ones, human ones, but they’ve got unique strengths and it’s all being ignored for tired tropes and cliched relationships.
      3) I understand the financial reality of such a business but again, Season 1 established they don’t go case to case, hat in hand. They are (or at least were) highly sought after with multiple cases on the go at all times, many bread and butter ones to cover the cost of white hat missions.

      As always, these reviews are only my opinion (and I truly appreciate you taking the time to discuss these points) but I really loved the show last season for its heart and the season’s premiere has lost that somewhat.

  2. Jane Fishel says:

    Sadly, I felt these changes wrenching the show out of place in the last episodes of Season One. I can’t say that the jury’s out; it’s already returned with a “guilty” verdict. I miss the great chemistry of the team, and how much they care about each other. The idea that they’re all in it for the money makes the show extraordinarily mundane.

    The charm and playfulness of Dr. Bull is gone, replaced by a smirking know-it-all who is capable of screaming at his loyal staff, and who seems to pursue money instead of taking on the David v. Goliath cases that stole his heart in Season 1. He’s sitting at the jury table, questioning and giving statements like a lawyer (a complete departure from all established rules in Season 1).

    And the terrible plot…a woman smart enough to have committed the “perfect crime” leaves no fingerprints on the gun? Puts her rubber gloves through the office shredder, surely the first place the police would look for evidence and not the big “ah-ha” moment that cracks the case.

    They’ve dumbed the show down…awful.

    • Diana Keng says:

      Thanks for taking the time to share, Jane. You and I are definitely on the same page regarding the tonal shifts. As the regular reviewer, I feel like I need to cling to hope that they’ll revert to form eventually. You hit on the perfect descriptor here: mundane. I think I watched the show because these were exceptional people doing an exceptional job. Everything about this episode just wasn’t exceptional in the way I’d become accustomed to. Still got my fingers crossed. Episode 2 was marginally better than the premiere. Directionality is positive… 😉

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