The National Geographic Channel has put so much faith in its scripted limited series “Genius” that the program has been renewed for a second season even before the first episode has aired. Based on Walter Isaacson’s book “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” the ambitious program of “Genius” is to tell the entire story of the tumultuous private life of Albert Einstein, the great mind who personified the word “genius.”
Produced by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, “Genius,” judging by the first episode, explores the private of the revolutionary thinker in a non-lineal fashion, jumping back and forth through periods of time to illustrate his rise to fame as a theoretical physicist. Everyone knows about the “theory of relativity,” but few know this German-born intellectual endured a difficult relationship with his father and the struggle of being a Jew living in his homeland during the rise of Hitler. For all his brilliance, Einstein (portrayed by Geoffrey Rush as an adult) had troubled relations with women and his own children, to say nothing of how his rebellious nature caused him problems with teachers and scientific colleagues.
“Genius” begins with a young Einstein (Johnny Flynn) in conflict with his father as he drops out of school in Germany in order to further his studies in Switzerland, where he ultimately breaks the heart of his first love, Marie (Shannon Tarbet). At the university in Zurich, he pursues the mysterious and elusive fellow physics student Mileva Maric (Samantha Colley), who would eventually become his first wife. Their first volatile encounters hardly seemed conducive to romance.
“Genius” requires the viewer to pay attention to the timelines, as the story jumps back and forth from Munich and Italy in 1894 and 1895, respectively, to Berlin in the Thirties and Forties, when the Brownshirts terrorized the public. The first episode jumps right to this pre-World War II era when Einstein is now married to his second wife Elsa (Emily Watson), who happened to be his first cousin and endured his infidelities.
Exposing the great man for his flaws and sexual peccadilloes, “Genius” is also generous to demonstrate that his mind operated superior to his colleagues and adversaries. “Genius” has a lot of ground to cover, including the years spent in the United States teaching at Princeton. This series should exceed at commanding attention of anyone fascinated by this complicated intellectual.