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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Genius is a series about the life of famed physicist Albert Einstein. This warts-and-all look at his life shows him cheating on his wife with his much-younger secretary -- they have sex in Einstein's classroom (no private parts are visible, but we do see Einstein's friend putting her underwear back on). Later, his wife tells Einstein she knows about the affair and grudgingly accepts it. The rise of Nazi power and anti-Semitism is a focus of the show; many scenes have politically motivated marches, battles, rallies, and shootings, including a scene in which a right-wing protester shoots himself in the head with a spray of blood. Expect to see Nazi imagery (including swastikas) and hear chanting and disturbing dialogue about Jewish people and the "purity" of Germany. Infrequent cursing: "dammit" and "hell." Characters smoke cigars and drink at parties and dinners.
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What's the story?
Delving into the life of the man that many young viewers may know only as a frizzy-haired guy from a poster who had something to do with an equation, GENIUS stars Geoffrey Rush as the forty- to seventy-something Einstein (Johnny Flynn as the younger version). We meet him as a young man in Post WWI Germany, a rebel and a bad student whose intellectual spark still propels him towards a career in math and science, and to the Switzerland Polytechnic university where he meets his soon-to-be-wife Mileva Marić (Samantha Colley). But as students of history know, Einstein wasn't to settle into a staid academic life. Instead, he fled Germany when Hitler came to power, and wound up as the unwitting father of the atomic bomb.
Is it any good?
Einstein had an interesting life and the idea of poking holes in his saintly reputation is promising, but no one accused theoretical physics, or this show, of being fun, fizzy, or even understandable. Even producer Ron Howard, admits that he still doesn't "get" relativity. Viewers will find themselves in the same situation, interested every time this drama dips into world news like Hitler's rise or the launch of the Manhattan Project, glazed over when things degenerate into Einstein talking about his ideas to somebody. Which he does -- a lot, in classrooms, at dinner tables, and dark living rooms.
Speaking of darkness, the overall drabness of the visuals adds to the blah totality of Genius. There are a lot of beards, black suits, furniture with doilies on them, and shawls. There are also many scenes in which a roomful of students or colleagues stares at Einstein as he lectures, then, after a moment of stunned silence, bursts into applause. Sigh. Things pick up whenever we're following Einstein's (complicated) romantic and marital life, or looking at historical events from his perspective. But in between those scenes, there are a lot of inexplicable lectures to get through. Parents may want kids to watch to encourage STEM studies -- but it may take a fight to get them to do it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Albert Einstein shows perseverance and curiosity in Genius by formulating his unusual ideas about time and space and continuing to teach them despite pressure not to. Are these important character strengths?
How does this show use computer-generated graphics to illustrate scientific concepts? Can you think of another show or movie that attempts to visualize complex scientific ideas? Does it help?
Most shows or movies that attempt to dramatize the life of a respected famous person show them in a good light. Does this show present Einstein in a good light? Is he a good character? A bad one? A complex man? What evidence do you have for your choice?
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