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Tuesday, 16 March 2021

REVIEW: 'Your Honor' makes for tense and not entirely easy watch.

 Three episodes into Your Honor and I can feel myself tense with anxiety as this new thriller unfolds on Sky Atlantic. This 10-part series premiered on Showtime in the US in December and the story follows New Orleans judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston), as he up-ends his life to protect his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) from conviction following a devastating hit-and-run accident.


From the first episode, you quickly realise that this is not going to be a comfortable watch. The horrific opener sees Desiato’s son Adam involved in a road collision with a young motorcyclist, brought on by Adam’s asthma attack. This captivating scene builds dramatically from his initial encounter with a gang when leaving a small memoriam to his Mother in the neighbourhood, all the way to through to his confession to his father. As the Desiatos head to the police station to confess, you start to see where the show could be heading. That’s until Michael spots the victim’s parents at the station receiving the news of their son’s death. The Baxters, we later learn from Michael, are the most notorious organised crime family in the city. It’s from here the story really begins.

The irony of the title of this programme is not lost on its audience. A respected judge referred to as “your honor” by his convicted suspects, then attempts to cover up a crime by playing the system he’s so intrinsically a part of. He uses his knowledge of how the system will be used to uncover the crime, to paper over the cracks, dismiss any evidence and seemingly go to any lengths to protect his son. Cranston is nothing short of magnificent in this series. For someone as well-known as he is, his immersion into the straight-talking Desiato is utterly absorbing. He plays it with such conviction, it’s almost frightening. You can’t help but marvel at his methods of removing evidence of Adam’s involvement. He strikes the balance of garnering empathy with the loss of his wife, and then astonishment in a notable scene at the gas station to remove the CCTV of Adam from that day. He’s a magnetic performer and no doubt a huge draw for the viewers. There’s a strong supporting cast including notable performances from Hope Davis as the ruthless Gina Baxter and Hunter Doohan as the troubled Adam.

There is a moral bankruptcy evident throughout the first few episodes. Michael’s best friend, the charismatic Charlie running to be Mayor, assists in getting rid of Adam’s car and blackmailing another teenager to plead guilty. The power of the Baxter family themselves , with their wealth enabling cooperation of the police. And in a lesser but still significant form, Frannie, Adam’s teacher who’s he engaged in a secret relationship with. All of this adds to the general uneasiness when watching. Captivating yet anxiety-inducing.

It sparks a thought as to where should the viewers empathy lie in this series. It’s morally ambiguous start left me almost feeling guilty to have compassion for Michael and Adam. It presents a dilemma that as a viewer you end up pondering long after watching. You don’t condone, but do you understand? If you were faced with that decision knowing that the truth would likely kill your son anyway, would you be able to frame another person to protect your family?

We’re then promptly faced with the consequences of that decision as we meet Kofi Jones, the teenager orchestrated to take the fall for Adam’s crime. He’s an easy target, a young black man raised in the “wrong side of town”. Less questions will be asked for his involvement and as we see from the role of the police in this series, intimidation will force compliance when you have so few options to turn to.

A seeming standard for serial drama this present age, all 10 episodes are available to watch straight away. I’m all for a boxset binge but after watching the first three episodes back to back, I now feel in need of a break to gather my thoughts. There’s so much at play in this series; morality, racism, police corruption, it almost feels too soon to lock in an opinion. There’s been some critic comparison to Cranston’s former hit series Breaking Bad, similarly about a man who turns to crime to secure his family’s future. I’m yet to see Breaking Bad (I know I’m an outcast) so I’m not tied to make a comparison, but when you’ve had a hit in the same genre, an attempt to replicate always seems to fall short, mainly due to the multitude of media and fan comparisons.

The cinematography of the show suitably matches the sombre theme of the plotline. Dark rooms and sparse neighbourhoods leave a sense of emptiness, perhaps reflecting the lack of morality in the characters we meet. There’s a beautiful use of music in the third episode featuring a bombastic internal monologue of Adam in the photography studio to Joy Division’s, Love Will Tear Us Apart. It gives lift to an otherwise unsettling atmosphere.

Three episodes in and I’m starting to wonder how many twists and turns will take place to bring it to its supposed climax in episode 10. There is a sense of inevitability with Adam and his struggle to keep his dark secret. We see him already confess to Frankie towards the end of episode 3, so with another person in on the cover up only time will tell how the truth will unravel. It’s an intense watch, but with a plot bursting with threads, it leaves you intrigued enough to watch more. 

Contributed by Brogan Gaymer

Read more of Brogan's reviews HERE

                                        Your Honor is available in full on Sky Boxsets now.

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