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.
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 WroteÂ -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)Â after she stabs herself in a variety of places to create her self-defense case.
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.
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 inÂ 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.
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.
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 agelessÂ Anna Holbrook, Sharlene fromÂ Another World,Â as Juror 17. (I always go to my happy place whenÂ Another WorldÂ alumni show up on my TV.)
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.
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.
BullÂ airs Tuesday night on CBS at 9pm ET/PT.
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