Mickey Haller does not believe in seatbelts.
This is not the most important takeaway of The Lincoln Lawyer, the latest adaptation of a beloved Michael Connelly property to hit a streaming platform in the last seven days. But given the fact that L.A.’s best criminal defense attorney (and Harry Bosch’s undiscovered half-brother) earned his moniker building cases out of the backseat of a small fleet of new and vintage luxury Lincolns, his relationship to seatbelts is nevertheless one that at-home viewers are likely to clock immediately, once his eponymous work habits make the leap to the streaming screen.
So, as a bit of service journalism for those annoyed that a man like Mickey Haller is just never, ever, ever wearing his seatbelt, I say again: The Lincoln Lawyer does not believe in seatbelts. Or at least, the creative team behind The Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t believe in them on his behalf. Either way, let this warning save you the headache—and distraction!—in advance. No matter how desperately you might want Haller, played in this Netflix adaptation by an unassumingly charming Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, to just buckle his goddamn seatbelt even one of the times he climbs into the backseat of his silver Lincoln Navigator, it won’t happen. Twice, maybe three times—when he’s in the driver’s seat of his vintage, top-down Lincoln Continental—you’ll see him belted in. (And to the show’s credit, both his daughter and his driver wear theirs in every circumstance.) But the rest of the time? Not a chance.
If that seemed like a lot of words to spend on what is, ultimately, a tiny detail in The Lincoln Lawyer’s densely packed first season, you wouldn’t be wrong. At the same time though, creator David E. Kelley and showrunner Ted Humphrey have packed the freshman legal drama densely enough—and Connelly has given them a pile of cases and characters to play with that were developed with enough care—that even tiny details like Haller’s seatbelt matter. See also: Lorna’s (Becki Newton) slightly off-kilter Elle Woods aesthetic. See also: The way Kelley and Humphrey use the specific celebrities of co-stars Newton, Neve Campbell, and Christopher Gorham to play with the audience’s expectations. See also: Every little personal parallel Haller has to his yet-to-be-discovered detective half-brother (the glass-walled house overlooking the whole of Los Angeles; the predilection for jazz; the bone-deep belief that everyone deserves justice) that will feel to fans of both series like some sort of secret code—if it’s not already meant to be.
Still, for all that even the smallest details in The Lincoln Lawyer matter to the overall viewing experience, this isn’t me saying that Netflix’s first ever legal drama requires the same level of careful attention as its streaming half-sibling Bosch did in its original Prime Video run. Not because The Lincoln Lawyer falls short of any kind of storytelling bar; it’s packed to the gills with plot, not just from the second Mickey Haller book from which the season’s central case is adapted (The Brass Verdict), but from the B-plots of other titles in Connelly’s original series, The Lincoln Lawyer, which has set and met its own high bar. But that’s exactly it. Meaning, while the story Harry Bosch belongs to might be a sun-soaked noir, the one Mickey Haller belongs to is mostly just sun-soaked.
Which, thanks to combined aesthetics of both Kelley (of Ally McBeal fame) and Humphrey (former EP of The Good Wife), is exactly the vibe The Lincoln Lawyer is putting out. I’m talking jauntily percussive piano and jazzy bass as Mickey and Lorna stride purposefully between scenes. I’m talking about an adorable pug that helps Lorna with the administrative work she does as Mickey’s not-quite-a-paralegal. I’m talking more golden sunlight softly beaming through the high windows of an awe-inspiring, TV-ready courtroom than Bosch’s cops and lawyers saw in seven whole seasons. Sure, there’s always a hard edge underlying these frothier elements—this is ex-L.A. Times crime reporter Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles, after all—but aesthetically, it’s those frothier bits in The Lincoln Lawyer that rise to the top.
Given how dark the four central cases of the series’ first season are, this frothy aesthetic proves a nice counterbalance. I mean, between the cold-blooded assassination of a lawyer named Jerry Vincent that the pilot opens with, the equally cold-blooded assassination of the wife of a billionaire video game developer (Christopher Gorham) who Vincent had been preparing to defend, the wrongful imprisonment of a young Hispanic man Haller had been charged to defend, and the massively scaled human trafficking operation Haller’s first ex-wife, Maggie (Neve Campbell), spends the entire season trying to dismantle in her role as a high-level District Attorney, this season is far from hurting for dark. And I haven’t even mentioned the oxycontin addiction Haller is in very new recovery from as the season opens! (A personal detail which opens the door for him to invite exonerated client and fellow former addict Izzy Letts, played by The Quad’s Jazz Raycole, to come work for him as his personal driver. Very Sam-in-Foyle’s War vibes.) I mean! If we’re not going to get Bosch’s noir trappings to cut all that intensity down, I’ll definitely take some froth.
That said, for all that this first season of The Lincoln Lawyer mostly manages the balance between froth and thriller, there ends up being at least one moment in each episode where it feels like maybe the show’s just stretching itself too thin. Not only is it taking on four major cases (and two former addictions) in the course of just 10 episodes, but it’s also juggling Mickey’s rocky return to practicing law at all after he’s bequeathed Jerry Vincent’s entire practice (billionaire video game developer included), his emotional relationship with his first ex-wife (Campbell) and thirteen-year-old daughter (Krista Warner), his working relationship with his driver, his second ex-wife (Newton), and his ex-biker investigator (who also happens to be Lorna’s fiancé), and the budding not-colleagues-but-maybe-no-longer-enemies relationship he spends the season developing with LAPD Detective Raymond Briggs (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, here playing the role that Harry Bosch originated in the books).
That’s so much! And not to be outdone (by… themselves, I guess?), Kelley and Humphrey go one layer further, adding as of the third episode, a didactic framing device of Haller breezily explaining the utmost basics of both the American judicial system and all the strategies lawyers can use to win cases within it, to a remarkably game Izzy as they speed, windows down, upon an empty, sun-scorched desert highway. Beyond being laughably unnecessary for anyone who’s ever watched even a single primetime legal drama (say, Ally McBeal or The Good Wife), this framing device adds nothing to the rest of the story. If anything, it kills the narrative momentum.
Still, given that the engine of this first season is the full-throttle go Mickey has to have—with Vincent’s entire practice dropped into his lap a week before a high-profile murder case—maybe “being stretched thin” is, as a viewing experience, a pretty good outcome. And in any case, I can take a bit of stretched-thin didacticism when it nets as clear a personal mandate for a protagonist as it does here, with Mickey explaining outright to his daughter midway through the season that what drives him is the fact that, “I believe that in our system, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And when the State points the finger at you, I’m all you’ve got.”
On that note, fans of both Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch will want to stick with The Lincoln Lawyer until at least Episode 6, which dispenses with the didactic desert drive framing device and instead sandwiches Mickey’s present-day story in between flashbacks of Haller’s dad (Jon Tenney) defending a wrongfully accused Black teen pro bono. This—in addition to giving us a fun cameo from both a young crime reporter named Connelly (a nod to Michael Connelly’s own crime beat history) and fan-favorite book character Legal Siegel, played by Brion Brionson in the flashback, and Elliott Gould in the present day—gives Haller Sr. the opportunity to impress upon a young Mickey (Adan Carillo) the philosophical and moral underpinnings to his chosen profession: It’s better to represent the guilty, he (and in turn Mickey) believe, because then even if you fail, well, at least they were guilty. The innocent, though? If you fail to save them, that hangs over you the rest of your life.
Or, as Harry Bosch would say: Either everybody counts, or nobody counts.
Man, those two should really meet.
The Lincoln Lawyer premieres Friday, May 13 on Netflix
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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