National Geographic teamed up with Ron Howard last year to dip their toe into the waters of scripted drama with the documentary/scripted hybrid Mars, which found enough success for the network to renew it for a second season. But, more importantly, it pointed the way for Howard to embark on a new adventure for the network along with fellow Oscar-winner and his A Beautiful Mind cohort, Brian Grazer, to bring Albert Einstein back to life in the first installment of the new anthology series Genius.
In the retelling of the life of renowned physicist Albert Einstein, brilliantly played by Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush, with the help of newcomer Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria) playing Einstein in his younger years, Genius explores both Einstein’s scientific achievements and failures while shining a light on his personal life.
Genius picks up with Einstein in his later years as a professor lecturing his class before flashing back to the late 1870s when young Albert was questioning the received knowledge of the scientists who came before him. During this time in his life, he renounced his German citizenship and set off for Zurich to attend the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, a highly-coveted school for science, technology, math and engineering, where he was constantly reprimanded for speaking out of turn and questioning the professors, who perhaps found it embarrassing to have to answer a student’s profound questioning with “that’s just the way it is.”
Beyond that, Genius takes care to introduce the sides of Albert Einstein that are less familiar, like his rebelliousness, his love of art and music, and, maybe most surprisingly, his womanizing ways — it’s rather shocking to see Rush’s portrayal of Einstein begin with his pants around his ankles holding onto a woman leaning over a desk as his long-time wife works upstairs, fully aware of what he’s up to. Even at a young age, Einstein struggled with how he treated women, particularly when he met his first wife, scientist Mileva Marić (Samantha Colley).
Perhaps, for some people, this sort of examination cracks the perfect “icon” image of Einstein, but it seems the intention is to show that underneath the crazy hair is a man who was just a man, who thrived, for better and worse, on breaking the rules and basked in his own imperfections.
Genius premieres April 25 at 9pm ET on National Geographic.