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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why Not Just Pick The Perfect Jury? #Bull #CBS #3weekroundup

Why Not Just Pick The Perfect Jury? #Bull #CBS #3weekroundup

All pictures courtesy of CBS

Boy, has this new crop of TV shows this season been disappointing. Oh! Did I write that out loud? Sorry. I meant to think it, type it, then delete it in my edit, but it just slipped out. You know you agree with me. But what about this new show from CBS. Is it certified fresh or is it already a rotting corpse ready to be buried by the cancellation bear in his last few weeks before hibernating? Let’s read about it together.

CBS’ new show Bull stars Michael Weatherly as Dr. Jason Bull, a trial jury consultant who helps the defendant and their lawyer team build a successful jury that will return the proper verdict, whether that be guilty or not guilty (in most cases since it is for the defendants, it is a not guilty). Before I dive into this review/recap you have to know right up front that this series is actually based loosely on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw—yeah, that Dr. Phil Mcgraw. the Dr. Phil that has his own talk show, Dr. Phil McGraw. Apparently, in his earlier career, he founded what he labeled CSI, short for Courtroom Sciences, Inc. There, he did precisely what the show does, putting his psychology degrees into effect to better predict the behavior of people. We good with the background? Yeah? OK, let’s get back to the show.

Dr. Jason Bull or just Bull for short runs his own office where he, as a psychologist tries to read, understand and predict the behavior of people, specifically jurors. What he wants is to understand what will make a juror vote someone not guilty. To do that, he has to understand their background: their likes and dislikes, how they live their life, what they hold most important, what kind of family and friends they have, what music is on their iTunes most played list, etc. Every detail you can think of is uniquely important because every detail of one person can sway or dissuade another juror. Let’s hop into the first case for better understanding.

Left to Right: Marissa, Bull, Benny
Joining Bull in his pursuit of the best jury is his second-in-command Marissa Morgan (played by Geneva Carr. You probably don’t know her by name but I’m sure you’ve seen her face once or twice). She helps to bring to his attention a case centered around a dead young Asian woman and the rich preppy punchface that is being accused of her murder. Working at Trial Analysis Corporation or TAC, she leads the young high school/college-aged boy’s father to Bull’s main operating floor to introduce him and his fleet of high-powered attorneys to Bull’s decision matrix. Here, we pretty much meet the rest of the team in a quick round-em-up near the very beginning of the show. We have Benny Colon (played by Freddy Rodriguez) who is an ex-city prosecutor who now helps to try the cases in Bull’s mock court (bear with me as we are getting to the explanation for that); Danny James (played by Jaime Lee Kirchner) who really doesn’t seem to have one specific job or area of expertise but does a little of whatever Bull and Marissa tell her to do; Cable McCrory (played by Dorothy Walcott who some might recognize from Showtime’s The Knick) who plays the lesbian hacker; and Chunk Palmer (played by Chris Jackson) who plays the gay stylist/cleanup guy. Do they need a stylist? Just wait for it.

Though he is a consultant, something stated in much of the advertisements and on the show more than a few times, Dr. Bull doesn’t think of it that way. He prefers to see his job as trial science as explained by Marissa in the opening act. All of the information I mentioned before that he is trying to compile on all of the potential jurors is scientifically manipulated, analyzed, studied and experimented with to give the best conclusion. To piggy-back on that, what he does is use a very complex and complicated algorithm to understand how people think and are affected by everything they hear in the courtroom. With the first case about the rich white kid killing the young Asian girl, we get a glimpse at this jury matrix. The father and his lawyers walk into Benny trying the case in front of a mock jury as it will be presented to the real jurors by the rich boy’s defense team. Each juror, out of what looked like anywhere from 18 to 24 is hooked up to a hand sensor and monitored with their own individual camera. The hand reader monitors all kinds of biological cues our bodies give out to alert a trained professional to how we are reacting to something. Through some of this information, coupled with the backgrounds of the jurors, Bull will build what he thinks is the most perfect jury to get this boy a not guilty verdict.

The Algorithm/Jury Prediction Matrix at Work

One of the taglines: No trial starts at zero. Based on the opening statement delivered by Benny (actually written by the real lawyer who will be trying the case for the rich boy), Bull surmised they’d only get three not guilty verdicts and was right. See, before each trial begins Bull and his team do a thorough background check of every person within the potential jury pool and put together their own list of the traits they want long before the lawyers even ask the questions at jury selection; in fact, he and his team will often write the questions for the lawyers to ask because the questions help Bull to prove his logarithm-extrapolated theory. For instance, he knows that one juror will vote not guilty for the boy because he is a current frat boy and actually wants to be the rich boy himself; another juror is a rebel without a cause and sees the goth-dipped rich boy as a rebel, too; another, still, is an older white woman who lets her upper-middle class bias shelter the boy, or in other words, he’s just too pampered to have killed someone. These things are great facts for when the real jury gets selected. Here’s when my title line comes into play.

After selecting a jury based on their pre-trial algorithm, Bull and his team go out and search the city for an identical mock trial jury. Assumingly these people are paid for their service as they, too, will be whisked away to spend all day sitting in the back of the courtroom to listen to the testimony and how it all plays out. Each person of the mock trial is chosen as a direct doppelganger of someone in the real jury. So, a woman who lost her son to “the legal system” is both on the real trial jury and the mock trial jury. Naturally, the old-school lawyer pushes back on the process as he wouldn’t be as powerful and high-priced as he is if he hadn’t tried tons of cases before and won more than he lost. Bull tells the man that not only will his method work, but that he needs to ditch the other lawyers save for one disheveled woman in the back, and he also bugs the man’s watch to make sure he is hearing all of what he thinks he needs to know.

Bull and Chunk with the kid
The boy is going in front of a very conservative judge but looks very lead-singer-of-Green-Day-ish, and hardly concerned with going to jail. The story goes like this: the Asian girl was killed by being thrown overboard of a party yacht during the boy’s party with a bunch of school friends. This was after the boy slept with the girl. It is theorized that he got a bit forceful when she didn’t want to sleep with him a second time, so he threw her off the boat before returning to the party. Mind you, he had only just met the girl about a week prior to the yachting excursion with all of the people. It was a crowded yacht and the girl had been having fun until she wound up dead. Also, it is revealed that the very reason she even got invited to the party and knew the boy was because she was also a drug dealer on the side. She had two phones, a main phone, which she used to talk to her mother on a daily basis and another phone they suspect she used as her dealer phone. There’s also a third person involved, the boy’s really close friend and pseudo-girlfriend. We’re talkin’ Cory and Topanga here: she’s a rich girl, he’s a rich boy, they grew up together, they were destined to end up with each other—at least that’s what she and her parents thought.

They try to throw you off with the drugs thing, briefly suggesting that this may have been some kind of drug deal gone wrong or that she was high or something silly, but that is inconsequential to the case. But when they learn from her mother (on the stand) that the girl told her everything and even revealed that the boy wanted to have anal sex with her, that is when things start to change and I immediately knew that he wasn’t the person who killed her because I had already guessed partially what happened. Anyway, even though plenty of people have anal sex according to multiple scientific sexual surveys done in the last few years, the very comment sends gasps through the court and makes him look like a twisted pervert. So, to undo this image, he needs to change his... well, image. The gay stylist guy plays into the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy stereotype and turns the boy from rich punk rocker to sweet barbershop quartet neighbor from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Though they don’t originally plan on putting him on the stand, he has to look innocent.

Someone they do question is the pseudo-girlfriend. After finding bondage photos linked to the boy, they question him on it but he says they aren’t actually sexual, something the gay stylist guy brought up as a theory. The pictures are more artistic than sexual for the boy. But they are of the pseudo-girlfriend who presents some very jealous tendencies on the stand. Before putting her on the stand they speak with her parents where her mother does much of the talking, making the husband into a pathetic simp. She, like any disapproving, rich, overbearing mother, is highly disappointed that the boy would even halfway choose some Asian girl over her daughter who idolizes him for whatever reason. They briefly think that it is the girl who killed the Asian and the jury certainly reacts in kind when the girl loses it on the stand. But not even her testimony can budge one Stonewall of a woman who Bull believes is driving the mind of the jury. If they get her to believe the boy is innocent, they can win the entire jury. She happens to be the woman with the son in the system, and she still doesn’t budge even after they put the boy on the stand. Though she is leaning toward him being not guilty after he confesses that he is actually gay and was sleeping with a lover at the time (he doesn’t reveal the lover. I completely knew the boy was gay from the very beginning of the case).

The only way they finally get her to change her vote to not guilty, as evidenced to multiple testings of the closing statement against the mock jury, is to switch the lead lawyer off the closing and have it be delivered by the downtrodden woman lawyer who comes off as less arrogant and more truthful to her than the pompous suit of a man. The trial jury, just like in the mock jury, comes back with a not guilty verdict after the woman closes and all is right in the world. The woman on the jury who Bull found the hardest to crack encounters him on the street and she tells him to not spend his life trying to figure people out because it’ll just lead to a sadder life. But he can’t stop because he was hurt at some point in his own life and does this to not only control people but mask his own pain. A more recent pain came from his divorce from Benny’s sister. Not focused on that, he doesn’t just want to mold the jury but actually wants justice, too. Through body language and observation, he realizes that the person who the boy was sleeping with was actually the father of the pseudo-girlfriend. Moreover, the mother knew and killed the girl for that very reason: because she couldn’t kill her husband and knew that the Asian girl knew the boy was gay, which would completely mess up her daughter’s chance of marrying him and keeping money with money—rich people problems. She might not have been linked to all of it had she not stolen the dead girl’s necklace before tossing her overboard.

Left to Right: Chunk, Bull, Danny
Episode two deals with a very familiar plotline recently in the movies with both films like Flight starring Denzel Washington and Sully starring Tom Hanks touching on the subject. Here, an airplane crashes killing everyone on board but the pilot. Surprise, surprise, the pilot is a woman who comes under scrutiny along with the airline after the devastating tragedy. Bull seeks to prove that she wasn’t acting recklessly when the plane crashed and that it wasn’t due to pilot era. The plane had to fly through a storm and very bad turbulence before coming down in a forest a few miles away from a proper landing strip. Here, Bull is working against a few biases: she blacked out which means she has no recollection of what happened and some people think she may have been drinking (as in Flight); her co-pilot’s wife knew that her husband was having an affair and suspects it was the pilot and the co-pilot getting it on; she is a woman and Bull senses a blatant gender bias in the case. Through using his initial mock jury, he was able to get an easy not guilty verdict the first time, but only when people believed he was the pilot rather than a woman. If they can get the jury to see that she was a military pilot, had logged just as many hours as any qualified man and that she was more than capable of flying and landing the plane, then they can get her off. None of that really works to sway the jury. What really gets them is when at the end, they reveal to the jury that they are biased against the woman based solely on a picture of a few kids standing up to a bully. People are to choose which color shirt is standing up to a bully on a soccer field. When it is revealed that the girl is the defender and no one chose her, then people’s minds change. Bull also takes the pilot to a flight simulator to help her reclaim her memory. The simulator reveals that she made the right call and pulled the plane away from catastrophe by not landing it in a nearby neighborhood which could have killed dozens more.

Episode three’s case develops from a popular true crime blog releasing new facts in the murder of a college student a few years back. Taking the case pro-bono, Bull and his team have to defend a young woman charged with murdering a college superstar athlete by shooting him. This comes only after some of her DNA from a few strands of hair are found on his jacket and the true crime blog unearths a previously unfound anonymous rape report that she filed against him while in college. Her side of the story is that there was a party going on and he happened to ask her if he could use her bathroom in her dorm or place or whatever, and the next thing she knew, she was being raped. The blog, run by a young woman, believes that she probably lied about the rape and that when this false charge was not taken seriously, she sought revenge. Bull, however, believes something far different.

This time, the case focuses less on the jury and more on the blogger and the accused woman. While one juror is a staunch believer and follower of the crime blogger, they focus on figuring out who actually could have killed the boy, while manipulating the blogger to give up all of the information she found during her research. The blogger puts up a white-hat fight against the police and serves a few days in jail just to keep her integrity, street cred, and freedom of journalistic speech intact and not have to turn over her research to the courts. Bull sees right through this and knows that she’s only doing this to gain publicity and appear as a martyr for the cause. He figures out that she knows more to the narrative than what she lets on. When he makes a deal with her to turn over the research, she gets out of jail and is immediately pushed off the roof of her own apartment building. The accused girl also takes flack for that murder until it is proved that she was in her apartment during the time of the blogger’s death.

As it turns out, the girl who was raped didn’t kill the guy at all (she wanted to keep him alive so he could serve jail time) but the man, along with the rest of his highly successful sports team, was on steroids. When he threatened to white knight and turn the entire team in (a noble pursuit for a rapist), one of his teammates and his coach colluded to kill him. Justice was served in the murders though not in the rape.

What is my grade? I will give it a B-. Yes, with the lack of detail and written inflection in some of the above paragraphs one might think I didn’t like the show. The show is decent and it is a fairly new and unique concept, and having it be based on a real-life person in Dr. Phil is also interesting, I just don’t think this show is for me. It is exceptionally average and right in line with a CSI or NCIS—that crowd of shows. If you like those, I’m half-certain you will enjoy this, especially since Michael Weatherly hails from one of those shows. It would have been a C but I ranked it two points higher based solely off the novelty of the concept. Again, there’s nothing quite like it on TV. The only problem I really see here are the cases. The cases are bland so far and the psychology is not as in-depth as I’d like for it to be. Also, referring back to the title of this post, one of the people who was interested in seeing this show originally asked the same question: why not just pick the perfect jury? Why have a need for the mock jury? While it is explained, it also does seem half-unnecessary if you’re picking people that are already supposed to think the person is not guilty. Take away the scenes in which they are actually picking the jury and it can feel like any other law show on TV. But as said before, the concept is so strong on its own, and the acting is decent enough that I can see it thriving on the CBS network.

Should you be watching? Again, if you like any of the other CBS shows I mentioned: CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS, hell, even JAG from back in the day, chances are you’ll like this. Every once in a while, a show will be greenlit on a network and I will watch it and think that if it was on any other network, it probably wouldn’t work. This is that show. This plays highly into CBS’ brand. It is straightforward, no mess, no fuss. You can skip a few weeks and come back having missed nothing which is nice for a lot of people. Bull airs on CBS Tuesdays at 9pm.

What do you think? Have you seen Bull? If you haven’t, do you think you’ll check it out? If you have, what do you like most about it? Was I too hard on it? Is it your new favorite show? And what pain do you think Bull is hiding from? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER#BrandNewHome or  the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.

Until next time, "Hey, you ever went cow-tipping?”
‘Hell no! I don’t tip cows mainly because they make terrible waiters and waitresses.”

P.S. Admittedly, that probably can go into my Hall of Shame for one of my worst sign-offs since starting this blog, but you know what...? I’m OK with that. I’ll think of something better next time.  

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