Hit or Sh**: CBS’s PURE GENIUS

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

pure genius

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At a first glance, PURE GENIUS may seem like the kind of television designed to peacefully lull its viewers to sleep. The hospital-turned-CIA-base converted into a five-star mediation resort offers  picturesque scenery and a setting where really cool gadgets solve complex medical problems historically reserved for medical professionals.  It doesn’t require much of an emotional investment; you don’t even have to think, really. But PURE GENIUS is so bad that your tired brain will soon be jolted awake by any number of its grievances, and you’ll need to watch several hours of Netflix original content before bed just to recover.

This is surprising coming from Jason Katims, the man behind FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and PARENTHOOD. Maybe he grew tired of his excellent shows fighting cancellation year after year. After all, even geniuses make mistakes sometimes. However, I hope he learns his lesson and never sells out again, because someone, somewhere is crying their eyes out right now watching the PARENTHOOD finale, while it’s best for everyone’s reputation if PURE GENIUS is forgotten as quickly as possible.

The last show I watched on CBS was THE MENTALIST; it didn’t tell the best or most original stories, but Patrick Jane was so unbelievably charming that it didn’t really matter. And while it is accepted that no one can come close to the mentalist’s charisma, all PURE GENIUS has to offer is James Bell, the billionaire tech whiz who founded the hospital, and he’s downright insufferable. He’s drowning in his privilege and he couldn’t be more of an asshole about it. He publicly undermines his doctor’s authority in front of their patients, he can’t be bothered to learn his assistant’s name, and his ego is larger than Silicon Valley’s bank accounts (the supposed, but not at all believable setting of the show).

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I rest my case

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The concept is also highly problematic. PURE GENIUS brings one so-called twist to the standard medical procedural: utilizing cutting-edge technology to save lives. While this sounds fine on paper, the technology in question feels more like science fiction. Part of what makes a good medical drama so compelling is it poses difficult questions to which there are no easy answers. In real life a pregnant cancer patient faced with either dying or terminating her pregnancy wouldn’t get a happy ending. Neither would the teenage girl who’s been in a coma for six months and shows no signs of improvement. But in PURE GENIUS the pregnant woman swallows a pill that’s “a tiny supercomputer,” and the coma patient wears a helmet with some wires attached so she can telepathically communicate with her mother, so all is well by the end of the episode. This kind of storytelling isn’t just an insult to nuanced medical dramas, but also to real people faced with the hard limits of what medicine can and can’t do everyday.

This carelessness trickles down to the rest of the story. The dialogue is simultaneously cringeworthy and so forgettable I can’t recall a single line. The supporting cast also adds little depth to the struggling story. Brenda Song falls flat as Angie Chang, while I suspect Reshma Shetty is close to earning her medical license after playing a doctor for nearly a decade (ROYAL PAINS anyone?). On the other hand, Dermot Mulroney looks downright bored as Dr. Walter Wallace, the no nonsense foil to James Bell. The character arcs have weak set ups and limited payoffs, and the final “heartbreaking” twist mostly just brings joy that a detestable character may actually get the fate he deserves.

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Cheer up, maybe SHAMELESS will take you back when this nightmare is over

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PURE GENIUS is an awful show. It makes no attempt to add anything new to the market, it’s simply failing in its pursuit to be as generic as possible. It gives television a bad name, it’s offensive to creativity; I hope it gets cancelled as quickly as possible and nothing like it ever makes it on the air again. But now I’m just being too optimistic.

Verdict: Sh**

PURE GENIUS airs on Thursdays on CBS

April is a guest contributor for Crossfader Magazine. She believes cold brew coffee holds the answers to life.

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