["Genius: Aretha"] has an argument, and an opportunity to shake up the format. It does — sometimes. The new “Genius” spends most of its time in routine music-biopic mode: exposition, childhood traumas, historical checkpoints. But in the moments when it finds its groove, thanks to Erivo’s incandescent performance and its insight into Franklin’s process, it socks it to us. ... “Aretha” is a vibrant effort to give her artistry some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, even if we don’t entirely find out what it means to her.
It’s an informative, at times illuminating — if also sketchy and in some respects superficial — jog through the life of the woman crowned the Queen of Soul by a Chicago disc jockey in 1967, a crown she never took off, however much public tastes and the music business changed around her: American royalty.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a program worthy of its subject matter. However, a messy first half can make for difficult viewing. If you’re a casual Franklin fan, there are better biopic option. But if you’re a diehard, “Genius: Aretha” is still worth a look.
The series misses so many opportunities by shying away from anything that might lead to more dynamic storytelling or truly illuminating the lives of its subjects. It’s a show about an artist without rules, yet it limits itself by playing it safe.