Note: this article was also published on SciFi4Me.com.
Genius, season 1, episode 1: “Chapter 1”. Written by Noah Pink (based on the book Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson), directed by Ron Howard. Produced by Imagine Television, shown on National Geographic. Copyright 2017 (Seen April 25, 2017)
Science and education has been in the middle of a battle lately, and has been placed front and center in today’s political climate. With that in mind, National Geographic and Imagine Entertainment brings us Genius, their first scripted series. Planned as an anthology series, the show will focus on a different person every season.
For their first year out, the focus is on physicist Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush when older, Johnny Flynn when younger). Based on the book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, the ten episode story follows Einstein as he becomes the legend he is today.
Directed by Ron Howard, the first episode starts off with an attempt to make Einstein sexy, opening with the older version of him having enthusiastic sex with his assistant while his wife (Emily Watson as Elsa Einstein) is off running errands.
We are then torn into two timelines: one during the 1890s, when he is young and still in school (or not, as the case may be, as he drops out of one and attempts to go on his own); the other during the 1930s when he is teaching in Germany as Hitler is rising to power. The political message is pretty on the nose, but then again, unfortunately (as TV Tropes states), some anvils need to be dropped.
Despite the multiple timelines, the transitions are smooth and easy to follow. I’m curious if the rest of the season will continue the splitting between the two eras, maintaining each thread as they come together. It’ll be fascinating if they can pull it off.
Howard’s directing is spot on, with the episode fast paced and moving quickly. The sets and costumes are gloriously done, although the use of CGI to show Einstein’s thoughts about the universe come across a little too intrusive to me, breaking the suspension of disbelief.
Of course, Rush is excellent as Einstein, although it definitely feels like “Geoffrey Rush playing Einstein”. Flynn is outstanding as the younger Einstein, playing perfectly that passion and fire that is only seen in that twenty-something age range when we’re all so desperate to prove we deserve to be adults.
The attempt to make the man sexy didn’t quite play for me: the show seems to be pro-Einstein, with the tone coming across that every woman should be so lucky to have Einstein’s interest. However, we have a great introduction to Mileva Maric (played by Samantha Colley), who will become Einstein’s first wife.
The episode ends on a great place, and I definitely am interested to see more. The first episode of Genius aired tonight, and the series continues on Tuesdays on National Geographic. For more information about the show, visit the official website.