Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein. Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein. Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein. (Photo: National Geographic / Dusan Martincek)

4 ways Einstein’s life was perfect for TV

With NatGeo's 'Genius' now in the history books, we look back at how the show portrayed such an iconic figure.

The recipe for any good TV show includes several ingredients: action, drama, humor and suspense. That last one is especially hard to pull off when you're making a show about a historical figure and we all already know how it ends. Nonetheless, NatGeo pulled it off with their recently-wrapped "Genius" series produced by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer about the life of Albert Einstein.

We've been following the series closely (read our episode recaps) and have come up with 4 ways we think Einstein was the perfect choice to kick off this biographical series. (Picasso has been chosen as the subject of next year's "Genius.")

He's funny

Actor Geoffrey Rush embodied the wit and wisdom and Albert Einstein.Actor Geoffrey Rush embodied the wit and wisdom of Albert Einstein. (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

Sure, Einstein was smart. But he was wickedly funny as well, often punctuating his thought experiments with a well-timed zinger or perfectly placed pun. When he meets two wealthy benefactors who want to pay him to teach them about physics from their gilded living room, Einstein deadpans: "I think I have room in my schedule." He called something nonsense and then declared it akin to "a monkey in a hat riding a dog to a donut factory." And when someone in a position of authority told Einstein that he didn't understand the gravity of a situation, the genius retorted: "I guess I know a bit more about gravity than you."


He's flawed

Johnny Flynn stars as a young Albert Einstein and Samantha Colley as Mileva Marić.Johnny Flynn stars as a young Albert Einstein and Samantha Colley as Mileva Marić. (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

During the recent era of "Peak TV," we've been treated to all manner of anti-heroes – whether it was Tony in the "Sopranos" or Walter in "Breaking Bad." While Einstein stayed far from those characters' criminal behavior, the series enlightened many viewers to the personal foibles of the father of relativity. Several of the early episodes extensively (and maybe a bit much for this tired reviewer) featured Einstein's failed marriage to Mileva Marić. The series also explored the fractured relationship Einstein had with his children. Not to mention, the man we all know as a genius failed out of college.


He's fearless

Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Elsa (Emily Watson) are surrounded by autograph seekers when they arrive in America. Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Elsa (Emily Watson) are surrounded by autograph seekers when they arrive in America. (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

The second half of the show concentrated a lot of its time on Einstein's anti-establishment nature. We see him stand up to the status quo, often at the expense of his own reputation. He refused to use his science to build weapons like some of his fellow scientists and, indeed, became known for his steadfast pacifism. The final episodes feature his role in the anti-nuclear movement in the wake of the creation of the atomic bomb. “Einstein is an icon, but few people understand what he went through,” said co-executive producer Noah Pink. “He lived through two world wars and was in many ways the first international celebrity. He was not only a brilliant scientist but also a brilliant writer, philosopher, musician – he played violin, really complex Mozart sonatas. He was a humanist, an outspoken pacifist. He led a very full life, one we all should aspire to."


He's fundamental

Actor Johnny Flynn portrays a young Einstein in the NatGeo series "Genius."Actor Johnny Flynn portrays a young Einstein in the NatGeo series "Genius." (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

Einstein was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but he was so much more than that. The tentacles of his General Theory of Relativity reach far beyond the laboratory and the world of academia. They touch everything from time travel to the GPS in your car. And his place in the cultural pantheon is unparalleled. “I wanted to think outside of him being a scientist because that's a given," actor Geoffrey Rush noted. "He’s a great heroic figure. He was a glass half full kind of guy. He always saw the better side of humanity."

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Related Topics: Albert Einstein, 'Genius' episode recap

4 ways Einstein’s life was perfect for TV
With NatGeo's 'Genius' now in the history books, we look back at how the show portrayed such an iconic figure.