REVIEW: "YOUR HONOR" ON SHOWTIME
The Showtime limited series "Your Honor" has all the trappings of an Emmy-contending Peak TV smash-hit. The powerhouse cast -- including not just star Bryan Cranston but supporting players like Hope Davis, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tony Curran, Carmen Ejogo, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. -- features enough heavy hitters to drive a studio feature. Creator Peter Moffat was also behind the BBC series "Criminal Justice" and produced its acclaimed HBO remake, "The Night Of." And the show gorgeously and cinematically captures present-day New Orleans, Louisiana, from the wealthiest outlying suburbs to the dense sprawl of the Lower Ninth Ward. For a while, I felt genuinely lulled into the experience, assuming that "Your Honor" possessed some kind of greatness because it's so similar an experience to so many other shows -- from "The Sopranos" to "Ozark" -- that are considered great.
But after 2 or 3 episodes, I started to suspect that "Your Honor" might not be great after all. In fact, I think "Your Honor" is actually quite silly and cartoonish, an attempt to recapture the same pot-boiling suspense of another Cranston drama -- "Breaking Bad" -- but without that show's devilish wit or deviously clever plotting. There's an artfulness to pacing this kind of a thriller, and ratcheting up tension gradually over the course of a story, that "Your Honor" just kind of lacks. Where "Better Call Saul" might subtly introduce a new character or situation that will pay off the following season, "Your Honor" has someone stumble into the door and shout "I found a clue!"
Clues are something that "Your Honor" definitely does NOT lack. The story is relatively simple: Cranston stars as fine upstanding good judge Michael Desiato, who's raising his teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan) after the tragic death of his wife a few years before. One day, while Adam is driving distracted -- and in the grips of an asthma attack -- he accidentally and fatally hits a young motorcyclist with his car, and in shock, speeds away from the scene. The dead cyclist turns out to be Rocco, the teenage son of very scary New Orleans crime boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), prompting Desiato to cover up his son's involvement, and thus save his life.
I think the #1 issue with the series is that Moffat and his writers just don't trust their audience enough. Everything's too big, and painted in primary colors for us, rather than leaving some things unsaid or allowing us to fill in the blanks ourselves. What could have been a taut game of cat and mouse, where carefully observed small details and minor oversights end up making all the difference, becomes something more like a melodramatic throwback to the more disposable network dramas of the '80s and '90s. Motifs and themes that could be implied are heavily underlined, and everyone feels like the most grandiose versions of themselves. Baxter isn't just a scary thug -- he's the MOST POWERFUL GANGSTER in New Orleans history. Desiato isn't just an upstanding citizen; he's a beacon of light and truth in a town without hope. (An early scene in his courtroom finds him interrupting the lawyers and even witnesses in his lone, brave pursuit of truth, and kind of tips you off that these events are not taking place in a realistic world.)
I wanted to like "Your Honor," and for a while, I did, but it's near-impossible to take the show's histrionics seriously. Even the various investigations into the crime at its center are messy and lazily plotted. The police don't so much investigate leads as they luckily stumble upon crime scenes, and the show's not above having a literal dog enter the shot and walk off with an important piece of evidence. In some cases, Desiato is a legal genius who can see 5 moves ahead of the cops, but then he'll make ridiculous blunders or fail to make obvious connections. What we have here may be most valuable as an example of just how difficult it can be to make a truly great hour of television: you can get so many of the details right, but sometimes, the pieces just don't all fit together.
Title: "Your Honor"
Where to Watch: Showtime
Episodes: 10 total; 6 so far
Running time: 50-60 minutes each
Genre: Crime drama