Genius (stylized as Genius.) is an American anthology period drama television series developed by Noah Pink and Kenneth Biller that premiered on April 25, 2017 on National Geographic.
In December 2020, the series was renewed for a fourth season, which is set to be released on Disney+ and will follow the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.. It is presumed to premiere sometime in 2022.
Main article: Genius: Einstein
Based on Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe, the season chronicles two periods in the life of Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush & Johnny Flynn). The first as a patent clerk struggling to gain a teaching position and doctorate, the second as a scientist respected for his development of the theory of relativity.
The season also stars Samantha Colley as Mileva Marić, Richard Topol as Fritz Haber, Michael McElhatton as Philipp Lenard, Emily Watson as elder Elsa Einstein, Gwendolyn Ellis as younger Elsa, and Ralph Brown as Max Planck.
Main article: Genius: Picasso
The second season chronicles two periods in the life of Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas & Alex Rich). The first as a young man first discovering his talent, the second as a celebrated artist struggling with the rise of fascism and the price of fame.
Main article: Genius: Aretha
The third season chronicles two periods in the life of Aretha Franklin (Cynthia Ervio & Shaian Jordan). The first as a young gospel singer impregnated at the age of twelve, and the second as a rising star who was crowned the "Queen of Soul".
The series also stars Courtney B. Vance as C. L. Franklin, David Cross as Jerry Wexler, Malcolm Barrett as Ted White, Patrice Covington as Erma Franklin, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Carolyn Franklin, and Kimberly Hébert Gregory as Ruth Bowen.
On April 28, 2016, it was announced that National Geographic had given the production a straight-to-series order, its first ever scripted series. The series was set to be based on the biography Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson and adapted by Noah Pink, who was also expected to co-executive produce. Executive producers were announced to include Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Francie Calfo, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane, Sam Sokolow, and Jeffrey Cooney. Anna Culp was set to co-produce alongside Melissa Rucker. Ron Howard was expected to direct the first episode of the series. Production companies involved with the series were set to include Imagine TV, Fox 21 TV Studios, OddLot Entertainment and EUE/Sokolow.
On April 19, 2017, National Geographic renewed the series for a second season. The subject of the second season was to have been announced during the finale of the first season, but was instead revealed to be Pablo Picasso the day after the finale, when the network and producers did not want to divert attention away from the season finale. The second season premiered on April 24, 2018.
On April 18, 2018, National Geographic renewed the series for a third season. The season was initially set to follow the life of writer Mary Shelley. Ken Biller is expected to return as showrunner, executive producer and writer. Also returning are executive producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Francie Calfo, Jeff Cooney, Sam Sokolow, Gigi Pritzker, and Rachel Shane. Anna Culp will return as producer. Returning production companies include Imagine TV, MWM Studios, and EUE/Sokolow. On February 10, 2019, it was announced that the subject of the third season would instead be American singer Aretha Franklin, known as "The Queen of Soul". The third season was slated to premiere on May 25, 2020 and air over four consecutive nights, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and will air on March 21, 2021.
On December 10, 2020, the series was renewed for a fourth season, which is set to follow the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and will be moving to Disney+.
In August 2016, it was announced that Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn would star in the series as Albert Einstein both as an old man and as a young adult, respectively. Additionally, it was reported that Emily Watson would also star in the series and that Michael McElhatton, Seth Gabel, Samantha Colley, Richard Topol, and Vincent Kartheiser had joined the cast. In November 2016, it was announced that Shannon Tarbet, Claire Rushbrook, and Robert Lindsay had been cast in recurring roles. On February 2, 2017, it was reported that T. R. Knight had been cast in the recurring role of J. Edgar Hoover.
On September 6, 2017, it was announced that Antonio Banderas would star in the second season as Pablo Picasso. On November 2, 2017, it was reported that Alex Rich would co-star in the series sharing the lead role of Picasso. It was further reported that Clémence Poésy, Robert Sheehan, Poppy Delevingne, Aisling Franciosi, and Sebastian Roché also joined the cast and that Samantha Colley, T. R. Knight, Seth Gabel, and Johnny Flynn were returning from season one in new roles.
On October 3, 2019, Cynthia Erivo was cast to play Aretha Franklin.
Principal photography for season one took place in mid-2016 in Prague. Filming for season two began in November 2017 in Málaga and was expected to take place for over five months in various cities around the world, including Barcelona, Paris, and Budapest. Filming for the third season was set to commence in November 2019, for an early-2020 release. In March 2020, the production was shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The series resumed production on October 1, 2020.
Most of Franklin's music in season three was recorded by Erivo. The producers, however, were unable to obtain the rights to use Franklin's biggest songs, "Respect" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".
The first season received mostly positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the series has an approval rating of 83%, based on 29 reviews. On Metacritic, the season had a score of 65 out of 100, based on 20 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Science columnist Dennis Overbye of The New York Times described the series as a "tense binge-worthy psychological thriller full of political and romantic melodrama." Overbye further noted that Einstein himself, writing to his sister, wrote, "If everybody lived a life like mine, there would be no need for novels." According to Hillary Busis of Vanity Fair, the film shows, "... Einstein at work ... peers into the über-genius's tumultuous love life (monogamy, he believes, is "not natural") ... his fraught emigration to the United States ...". Busis quotes producer Ron Howard: "When you move past his scientific contributions, Albert's life story—what his youth was like, who his friends were, who his enemies were, his tumultuous love life—is a story people don't know ... I think audiences are going to be riveted as we tell this ambitious and revealing human story behind Einstein's scientific brilliance."
The second season received mixed reviews, but garnered praise for its star, Antonio Banderas. Rotten Tomatoes gave an approval rating of 57%, based on 17 reviews. Its critical consensus reads: "An impressive performance from Antonio Banderas rescues Genius: Picasso from condensed melodrama." On Metacritic, the season had a score of 52 out of 100, based on 10 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The third season received mainly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave an approval rating of 73% based on 26 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "Cynthia Erivo captures the spirit of the singular singer with poise and passion - if only Aretha's writing were as strong as her performance."