Genius, the National Geographic Channel’s new series about one of the most famous intellects of all time, wants to show viewers that there was more to Albert Einstein than just “E=mc2.” He was a complex, flawed man with many sides that most people don’t even consider. For instance, as the show makes very clear early into Tuesday night’s premiere, Einstein had sex.
If you’re wondering exactly how long it takes before Genius treats viewers with an Einstein sex scene, we’ll tell you: 2 minutes and 41 seconds — including the opening credits.
The sex scene, which features Geoffrey Rush’s elderly physicist having stand-up sex against a chalkboard with his secretary Betty Neumann while lecturing her about how monogamy is unnatural, is the second scene of the show. To be fair, there’s a gripping action scene immediately before it, where Einstein’s friend, the German foreign minister Walter Rathenau, is assassinated. It’s pretty graphic, since he’s shot at nearly point-blank range with a machine gun.
Together, these two scenes make up our introduction to Genius’s telling of Einstein’s story, and it’s clear right off the bat that there’s plenty of violence and sex to be had. That’s kind of a shame, as this titillating intro belittles the rest of the show’s more leveled exploration of a complicated man who has disappeared behind the myth of his science.
The premiere spans two timelines. The first follows a younger Einstein (hereafter referred to as Yung Albert) as he struggles to get into university. As played by Johnny Flynn, an actor who you might know from his starring role on the show formerly known as Scrotal Recall, Yung Albert comes across as a smart idiot. He’s a brilliant physicist (though Genius has an understandably hard time conveying his mathematical excellence in an engaging way), but when it comes to just about everything else, he’s a total dolt, and he struggles to understand why this is even a problem.
As Flynn’s Yung Albert endeavors to learn more about society and humanity in order to pass a university entrance exam, Rush’s elder Einstein continues to learn about the realities of the world beyond his equations and boundless confidence. Einstein realizing that Germany, his home, is no longer a safe place due to Nazi bigotry, might be one of the more difficult conclusions the brilliant mind ever had to think up. Genius works best when it explores Einstein’s humanity and his struggles. Going by his biography, we can predict that a lot of that exploration in future episodes will focus on how Einstein was kind of a garbage person when it came to women.
Still, by opening with that over-the-top violence and sex combo, Genius undermines itself. Einstein is already an exaggerated figure in history, further exaggerating the most tantalizing aspects of his life only serves to make him more of a myth. Except here, he’s more of a myth that the douchiest frat boys tell as they boast about their most epic sexcapades.
Genius airs on the National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. Eastern.