Genius is the first scripted series produced by the National Geographic Channel. It is an anthology series, with each season covering the life of a famous, well, genius. The first understandably features the man whose very name is synonymous with the term above all others, Albert Einstein, played by Geoffrey Rush. A second season was approved before the first even aired, covering Pablo Picasso, played by Antonio Banderas. Then a third was announced before the second aired, about Aretha Franklin, played by Cynthia Erivo; premiering in March 2021, new episodes of the show arrived on Hulu a day after their cable premiere. A fourth season, announced before the third aired, will be about Martin Luther King Jr.; that season will be exclusive to Disney+.
The series as a whole contains examples of:
- Hotter and Sexier: National Geographic is known for producing family friendly documentaries (it's National Geographic, after all). With its nudity and sexual content, Genius is decidedly not family friendly.
- No Hero to His Valet: The series revolves around both the spectacular contributions of its subjects to humanity, and their deep personal failings as individuals.
- Period Piece: The show takes place in various historical eras.
- Persecuted Intellectuals: Einstein and Picasso both go against the scientific/artistic establishment, and are treated as pariahs until their true genius becomes apparent.
Tropes in Season 1:
- Absent-Minded Professor: Einstein is very much in the "great with science, bad with people" mold, often baffled at why people react badly to his awkward social skills. In his later years, he stubbornly refuses to appreciate the true import of the growing popularity of the Nazis until it's almost too late to leave the country.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Einstein's famous troubles in school are depicted as frustration at his professors' rote recitation of the accepted scientific principles of the time, refusing to listen to the possibility that they could be wrong.
- The Cameo: Several other "geniuses" make brief appearances. Wilhelm Roentgen's x-ray of his wife's hand spurs the jealousy and growing anti-Semitism of Philipp Lenard, Marie and Pierre Curie form a contrast to Einstein's carelessness in not acknowledging his wife Mileva's contributions to his work, and Franz Kafka briefly converses with Einstein after his move to Prague, sharing that his job makes him feel like a cockroach.
- Children Are Innocent: A brownshirt boy at a rally that mostly consists of beating up Jewish men spots Einstein and runs after him, then holds out his Nazi flag for an autograph.
- The Ditherer: Although everyone assumes them to be engaged, Young Einstein falls out of love with Marie because of distance, her lack of interest in physics, and Mileva, but he simply leaves her letters unanswered rather than actually telling her. This leads to very hurt feelings for everyone involved.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Quite a few, which are easy to portray visually thanks to Einstein's fondness for "thought experiments."
- His Own Worst Enemy: Einstein's pride and inability to hold his tongue work against him in his early years — specifically his tendency to openly challenge his professors in class comes back to haunt him, since none of them will give him a good recommendation during his job hunt — not even Webber who was his greatest advocate originally.
- Kissing Cousins: Einstein's second wife was his first cousin Elsa. Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was his fifth cousin once removed, tries to make small talk over this, but is quite surprised at just how close their relationship is and remarks on European decadence.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Elsa Einstein wooed Albert away from his first wife, and then has to deal with the belief she helped awaken in him that monogamy is pointless.
- Sequel Hook: Each season is planned to indicate who the next season will cover. In Season 1, Nazi scientist Philipp Lenard insults Pablo Picasso's work.
- Stealth Insult: Weber announces he has been pleased to "have all you gentlemen" in class while standing next to Mileva's desk.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Mileva is enraged when she reads the letters from Einstein's intended and believes that he's been using her. Although he really does love her, it is true that he completely distracted her from her studying, and that he completely failed to realize that as a woman she can make no mistakes if she wants to be taken seriously.
Tropes in Season 2:
- Always Someone Better: After being inspired by Henri Matisse's work, Picasso discovers he is entered in the same art contest and promptly withdraws, saying his work isn't good enough to compete yet. Later, Gertrude Stein invokes it in both of them, encouraging them to keep trying to top each other and bring out their best work.
- Badass Boast: Picasso stares down a Nazi officer threatening to arrest him, saying he knows the man's own boss is a big fan and he may disappear himself after arresting the world's most famous artist. This really happened.
- The Cameo:
- Johnny Flynn, who played the young Einstein in Season 1, shows up as Alain Cuny.
- Michael McElhatton appears as Jonas Salk, Francoise Gilot's husband after she left Picasso, after the much larger role of Phillipp Lenard in Season 1.
- Dying Dream: On his deathbed, Picasso sees himself happily reunited with his various lovers and children as one big family.
- Incompatible Orientation: Max Jacob is gently rebuffed by Picasso, in a scene that goes spectacularly well for the time period.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Carlos Casagemas suffers it at the same time he finds he can't paint anymore, ultimately driving him to suicide.
- Really Gets Around: Picasso was a notorious womanizer, with multiple simultaneous mistresses."Is she his mistress? How many has he had?""How many women has he painted?"