Review: Pure Genius 1×1 (US: CBS; UK: Universal)

Thick as mince

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS 
In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Universal. Starts 16th November

Healthcare research is an important topic. It is literally life-saving – or life-destroying if done wrong. It’s no surprise that billions of dollars are spent around the world to develop novel techniques and medicines, but always subject to strict ethical controls and procedures to ensure as few problems occur as possible.

Of course, if you’re from a completely different industry sector, such as computing, this speed of innovation can seem problematic, and Pure Genius gives us the somewhat odd scenario of a Silicon Valley tech genius setting up his own hospital, packed full of top doctors, so they can try out cutting edge procedures – all with the bare minimum of ethical oversight. Of course, the rules are there for a reason, and the entire first episode is almost a cautionary tale of why those rules are there. Fancy giving someone an experimental ingestible piece of technology without a control group and while she’s pregnant? Let’s just see what happens when that goes wrong then…

Indeed, the show feels like someone recently went to a blue sky healthcare tech show, saw all manner of whizzy gadgets being simulated and tried to work out a TV show where all these things could be demonstrated in the (more or less) here and now, no matter how impossible it would be in practice unless every patient were a billionaire, too.

There’s certainly very little attention paid to any of the characters. We have a plethora of female doctors famous from other TV shows, including Royal Pains‘ Reshma Shetty and House‘s Odette Anable, picked because presumably it’s easier for us to assume they’re the same characters as before than to actually give them lives, proper histories, or relationships. Dermot Mulroney (Crisis) gets most of the attention, as a genius surgeon wondering if he should take a job in the hospital and then being persuaded by a 3D printer that prints out plastic hearts he can practise surgery on before dealing with the real thing – you can buy them down the shops now, Dermot, so don’t be so hasty.

But even Dermot is there just to show off the whizzy things. Likewise Augustus Prew (The Borgias), the show’s surprisingly stupid genius, who’ll Google something on the Internet that sounds like an epic white elephant (brain to brain communication technology) and buy the entire company for millions. He may be a bit poorly himself and have built the hospital largely to fund research that will save himself, but he’d really be more at home at Comdex 2016 on stage demonstrating a smartphone than talking to another human being about the prognosis following a radical but failed new course of treatment, which is where he starts to get a bit sad. Maybe you should have read up about double-blind treatments first, Augustus, hey?

By the end of the first episode, I’m surprised the whole bunch of them haven’t been sued and the hospital shut down due to serious malpractice, but given the levels of reality-warping needed for some of the things that take place to be realistic, I wouldn’t be surprised if the FDA is now a bowl of petunias and a very surprised sperm whale. 

Pure Genius? Pure nonsense more like it.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.