The biggest revelation from National Geographic’s Genius: Albert Einstein could be kind of a jerk.
Oh, he was certainly a genius too, as NatGeo’s original series makes quite clear from the title on. Most everyone knew it the moment he walked on the campus of Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich as a cocky 16-year-old. And, sure, he was a likeable jerk. His friends loved him. The public adored him. He was as much a celebrity as scientist, which speaks to his rumpled charisma.
But the guy could be stubborn and irascible, too, all too willing to embarrass a professor or antagonize an associate. He left a trail of broken hearts and half-forgotten children in his wake—something Genius shows us in sometimes discomforting detail. “For a man who is an expert in the universe,” Einstein’s secretary/lover tells him as she throws on some clothes, “You don’t know the first thing about people, do you?”
Genius, which begins its run April 25, takes a non-linear look at Einstein’s life (fitting, given the physicist’s time-bending Theory of Relativity), giving viewers a look at the scientist when he was an often impudent young man (played by Johnny Flynn) and the more familiar, crazy-haired icon familiar to us to day (the Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning Geoffrey Rush). Based on Walter Isaacson’s biography Einstein: His Life and Universe, Genius gives us a fresh, new glimpse at the world’s most famous 20th century scientist—a man whose very name is synonymous with brilliance—and shows us just how human he really was.
The show works well. And given the source material, it should. “If everybody lived a life like mind, there would be no need for novels,” Einstein once wrote to his sister. Rush is particularly delightful as the older Einstein in all his many paradoxes.
But while Genius delves deeply into Einstein’s career and character in the first two episodes I watched, it does not delve into what I think is one of his most fascinating aspects: His interplay with religion.