(2000), David Newton
The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing (1998), Jason Kelly
(1997), David J. Kenney
(1997), Martin S. Fridson
Ensemble cast dramas are a television staple, and when done well they’re the equivalent of visual methadone – addictive. Multithreaded plots and multiple episode story arcs lead to captivated viewers and long runs on network schedules. To date, it’s a formula that has concentrated on just a few professions: medicine, law, police. With its first dramaseries, Bull, Turner Network Television attempts to jump-start the genre in a Wall Street setting. The premiere episode is a polished and decently-acted production that unfortunately is all too predictable and saddled with some of the worst dialog in recent memory.
There’s a biting scene in the movie Network where Paddy Chayefsky lampooned the sorry state of TV scripts by having Faye Dunaway’s network programming assistant reel off four outlines of proposed new Fall series. They were all based on young hard-charging protagonists (at least one of them brilliant and beautiful and having to prove her way in a man’s world) and a crusty but benign father figure. Bull’s scenarioisn’t too far removed; it follows the ensemble model a bit too faithfully.
In this incarnation of the David vs. Goliath saga, six ambitious investment bankers and traders have seceded from an established financial firm to start their own company. They’re young turks, they’re brash, they’re on the edge, they’re… all templates. Their leader is "Ditto" Roberts (George Newbern, Father of the Bride) – he’s the grandson of the Brahmin-like founder of their former company (Donald Moffat, Cookie’s Fortune). The other members of the firm include the requisite roles of Brilliant Minority (Malik Yoba, New York Undercover), Gorgeous But Determined Women – one with a Dark Secret (Alicia Coppola, Elisabeth Rohm), Insecure Lawyer (Ian Kahl), and Young Trainee With Pregnant Wife (Christopher Wiehl). Stanley Tucci (Big Night) has a recurring role as a Mergers and Acquisitions shark who may or may not be on their side; he’s J.R. Ewing in pinstripes.
The show offers promise that Bull might explore the inner workings of the financial world sufficiently to make continued viewing an interesting proposition, and the production values are excellent. But the premiere episode script is unremarkable. Anyone who’s watched television for more than a few hours will be able to predict the plot twists that occur – they’re all reprises of familiar themes and rarely surprise. And Bull especially sags when the actors speak. Moffet’s character actually boasts about "smoking cigars behind closed doors", and pontificates about setting "a glass ceiling" above the Brilliant Minority. The young Turks in the cast don’t fare much better from the screenwriter’s hand – "Ditto" is forced to cap an inspirational speech to his cohorts with a plea that they should be "pushing the edge of the envelope, climbing to the top of the ziggurat." What Tom Wolfe used as hyperbole, Bull uses as gospel.
Given the stolid and stony script, the actors soldier on valiantly. Tucci’s character is particularly interesting. He’s vaguely reminiscent of David Clennon’s Miles Drentell on the old thirtysomething TV show, but not quite as mystical – Tucci plays him as more Machiavelli than Zen Master. The rest of the cast manage to find shadings within their stock roles. As the series develops perhaps the characters will be fleshed out further. But as seen in the pilot episode, Bull is a framework of the all too familiar, a pastel sketch that uses very few colors.
- Bob Aulert