Genius

Tuesdays at 9/8 Central

Apr 25, 2017 Web Exclusive
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The first two scenes of Genius, National Geographic Network's first scripted series that dramatizes the life of Albert Einstein, depict acts of war and love. Thus, the outset establishes the formative forces behind a man expressly identified by his scientific discovery and contribution. These two themes played heavily in Einstein's maturation from a precocious and rebellious young man to a universal icon, and it's the influence of amorous love that receives much of the attention in the beginning chapters acquainting us with young Einstein, played by British actor/musician Johnny Flynn. At the same time, we are given glimpses of how an era encompassing two world wars impacted the adulthood and late life of Einstein, brought to life by the show's star, Geoffrey Rush.

Executive producer and director Ron Howard makes his scripted television debut with the first episode of Genius, which is adapted from Walter Isaacson's book Einstein: His Life and Universe. Howard is no stranger to peering into the private lives of monumental figures in history, as he did with the story of mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Like Nash, Einstein's brilliance was on a level all its own and because it challenged convention and accepted theory, was also initially marginalized. Howard navigates the introduction, which carries into the Minkie Spiro (Downton Abbey) directed chapter two, presenting young Einstein as a non-conformist and out of place physics student in Germany and Switzerland. We find that his insatiable curiosity of the principles governing the physical universe is equaled and at times surpassed by his submission to the forces of human attraction and chemistry. While his early life romances establish a basis of character, and a lesser known side of Einstein's inspiration, their narrative exploration lands flatly into trite formula, where amorous feelings described with scientific metaphor are overused.

The warming to the characters of young Einstein's universe is slow, yet once he meets and falls in love with fellow physics student Mileva Maric (Samantha Colley) during his time at Zürich Polytechnic in Switzerland, intrigue begins to mount. The consequences of their relationship ignite the chronology and set the stage for his period of breakthrough. What lies ahead is his post-graduate time as a humble clerk, where unconstrained by the stubborn rigidity of academia, Einstein conceived of five papers that completely altered human understanding of the physical universe, one of which created the field of quantum physics. This is the richer area to mine, and perhaps the early establishing of his youthful infatuations will be substantiated as they intersect and intertwine with the heart of his academic and scientific conquests. 

So, the young, blossoming and apparently quite hormonal Albert is center stage in the beginning chapters of Genius, but the aged Einstein played by Rush is who you really want to see in action. The dramatic flair and charisma of Rush richly animates the older Einstein of general recognition and his brief appearances early on make you look forward to the heart of the series, where Einstein's science becomes inevitably politicized. Einstein was a German Jew and at a time when challenging the prevailing beliefs of his country's government could get you killed, his then radical views were viewed as a threat to German Nationalism. The anti-Semitic climate in Germany prompted his ultimate immigration to America, where he soared to fame while contending with the potentially catastrophic implications of his discoveries in relation to atomic energy.

In this time when political and religious persecution is again beginning to rise, the story of Einstein has added relevance and moves you to consider the human progress that might have been impeded if the nationalism of the 20th century that threatened intersection of cultures had won. Though the beginning episodes of Genius only foreshadow the heart of Einstein's story, enough is provided to encourage you to view on. (www.channel.nationalgeographic.com/genius/)

Author rating: 6/10

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