Showtime's Thriller 'Your Honor' Puts Bryan Cranston in Another Bad Nightmare
Let's see him wriggle his way out of this jam.
Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Bryan Cranston has a very particular set of skills: He's great at playing flustered, projecting a sense of weary authority, and dramatizing the agony of getting squeezed in an ethical vice of his own creation. Across five seasons of AMC's Breaking Bad, Cranston's teacher-turned-kingpin Walter White put on a masterclass in wiping away fingerprints, disposing of evidence, and desperately covering his own ass. If you need someone to lie with purpose, to summon gravitas with a pained grimace and a sweaty brow, Cranston is the first guy you call.
Your Honor, a 10-episode limited series that debuted on Showtime on Sunday night, finds the Malcolm in the Middle dad back in his profoundly uncomfortable comfort zone. Following a respected New Orleans judge who bends (and, yes, breaks) the law to protect his son, the show from writer Peter Moffat (the creator of the BBC's Criminal Justice, the source material for HBO's The Night Of) scans as an ideal star vehicle for Cranston, who also serves as an executive producer. But, with so many twist-filled premium cable crime dramas to choose from at the moment, is it worth checking out? After checking out the first episode, I did my best to deliver a verdict below.
What is Your Honor about?Adapted from the Isralei miniseries Kvodo, Your Honor has a classic prestige-pulp legal thriller premise. Cranston plays Michael Desiato, a grief-stricken New Orleans judge still recovering from the tragic death of his wife and the mother of his son, Adam (Hunter Dooha). In the first half of the premiere, Adam drives his Volvo to the city's Ninth Ward to pay his respects to his late mother by leaving flowers and a photo near what the viewer assumes is the place of her death. Leaving the area and suffering one of those dramatically convenient asthma attacks, he gets in a car accident while reaching for his inhaler, killing the teenage son of a local mobster.
What Adam does next sets up the rest of the series. Though he attempts to provide mouth-to-mouth and dials 911 on a busted cell phone, he ends up leaving the scene of the crime. He drives home and washes his bloody clothes, eventually coming clean to his father, who initially plans to take his son in to confess. But when Michael realizes who Adam killed and how much danger he could be in, he decides to protect his son, a choice that will likely put him on a tragic path. Again, there likely are enough echoes here of Breaking Bad here—the soul-corrupting secrets, the "family first" moralizing, and the pulse-pounding stress—to draw in the Cranston faithful.
Who else is in Your Honor besides Bryan Cranston?It's understandable to think of Your Honor as the "Bryan Cranston hour." His face is prominently featured in the advertising, he's got the most dynamic role, and the premiere ultimately swings around a pivotal decision he makes towards the end of the episode. But he's not the only heavy-hitter in the cast, and he spends most of the first half running through the streets of the city with a hooded sweatshirt covering half of his face, so don't expect to see him in every scene.
Rounding out the cast, Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man has the potentially juiciest non-Cranston part as Jimmy Baxter, the father of the boy Adam hits with his car and the boss of the "most vicious crime family in the history of this city." (Stuhlbarg played an almost supernaturally compassionate father in Call Me By Your Name, so it should be fun to see him as a violent criminal mastermind here.) Hope Davis plays Baxter's shocked wife and Isiah Whitlock Jr. appears as one of Michael's colleagues with political ambitions. Margo Martindale, Carmen Ejogo, Maura Tierney, and Amy Landecker reportedly pop in for supporting turns as the series progresses.
Are you going to want to keep watching Your Honor?Though Your Honor will likely benefit from the many Breaking Bad allusions it received in the press, the comparison is ultimately an unforgiving one. As effective as Cranston is in the main role, offering fatherly guidance and folksy wisdom, the show has a plodding quality that undermines the inherent tension of the premise. As with many high-end crime dramas, the show stretches too many sequences to the breaking point. (If this were a Law & Order episode, the entire plot of the first episode would unfold in less than five minutes.) You feel like you're always a few steps ahead of the characters, which can be the kiss of death for a series like this.
In the best cases, like with the aforementioned The Night Of or HBO's Gillian Flynn adaptation Sharp Objects, that patient pacing allows a writer to paint a vivid picture of a specific location or dig deep into the fractured mental space of a character. The expanded scope encourages rewarding detours, eccentric twists, or bursts of dark humor, something Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan specializes in. Despite an evocative setting and an impressive cast, Your Honor is too methodical and dour for its own good. By the time Cranston finally springs into action, it feels like too little too late.
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