By Shannon Fox, @shannonfox
Albert Einstein: Nobel prize winner, hugely influential physicist, developer of the theory of relativity, and inarguably one of the most brilliant minds in history.
He also, as it turns out, got laid on the regular. Get it, Einstein.
Last night, the National Geographic Channel’s first scripted series, “Genius”, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, followed by a panel with both the creators and cast of the show.
“Genius” has some pretty big names attached to it: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are executive producing, and Howard directs the first episode. Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe-winner Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shine, Shakespeare in Love) is another big draw here, playing the older version of Einstein. But even for such reputable talent, an icon like Einstein poses the challenge of making such a well-known figure relatable, and that’s on top of all the science and history that has to be covered, as well.
Thankfully, within the show’s premiere episode, both the creative team and the cast rise to that challenge, bringing surprising (and sometimes terrifying) relevance to Einstein’s story, particularly during scenes that portray his experiences as a Jewish person in Germany during the rise of the Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. It’s timely and significant in a horrifying way.
But there’s more than just political reflection here. The cast is superb. Both Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn (from Netflix’s “Lovesick”) as the older and younger versions of Einstein, respectively, not only nail the unkempt charm and wit that the public has come to associate with the man, but add a much-needed depth and complexity to convey both his brilliance and humanity.
Okay, yes, and a bit of sexy, rockstar-esque appeal, too.
Emily Watson (War Horse), as Einstein’s wife, Elsa, seems to be the ground beneath Einstein’s feet while his head is off among the stars. And finally, though we don’t see her much in the first episode, Samantha Colley (Victoria) as fellow physicist Mileva Maric is utterly intriguing– I can’t wait to see more from her.
And if you’re concerned that all of the scientific terms and discussion of physics will go over your head, you needn’t worry– Ron Howard’s direction thankfully doesn’t dumb it down, but gives visual aids that help explain to us non-physicists what’s being discussed without detracting from the story itself. We see through Einstein’s eyes, without the subject matter getting lost or dulled in translation.
Already renewed for a second season that will cover a different, as-yet-unnamed intellectual, “Genius” will undoubtedly continue to explore the sides of Einstein that most of us were unaware of (yes, I’m talking about all that sex he was having), while also covering his professional contributions, the people who loved him and loathed him, and his life outside the sciences. A daunting challenge, to be sure, but he seems to be in some very good hands.
“Genius” premieres on the National Geographic channel on Tuesday, April 25th at 9 PM.