In the new Showtime miniseries, Your Honor, New Orleans judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston) is a good man who believes—or at least acts as if—everyone else is a good person who means well, too.
That defense attorney who comes in late to court? Take him at his word that he has prostate cancer and adjust the schedule to accommodate for bathroom breaks. And there’s no way that the police officer on the stand is accurate when he testifies that he saw the defendant hide drugs in her body cavity. In fact, Michael will even leave his bench and cross-examine the cop himself just to prove it. Is this officer really willing to send a single mother to prison—and her kids into the clutches of the neighborhood’s street gangs—just on a hunch? No? OK, moving on to the next case on the docket ….
Michael even seems to have made peace with the fact that his wife, a reporter and photographer, died in a convenience store stick-up gone awry while investigating crime in one of these nefarious neighborhoods. And he either has an extremely laid-back or strained relationship with their teen-aged son, Adam (Hunter Doohan), because the high schooler lives in the guest house. Does Michael know of Sofia Black-D’Elia’s Frannie, who sneaks out of Adam’s abode in the early morning hours when Dad goes for a run? Or that she seemingly does it without wearing any underwear?
So when Adam comes to him, understandably shaken and freaked out, with the news that he’s killed a fellow teen in a hit-and-run and then fled the scene with a trail of DNA in his wake, Michael decides to do the right thing. He’s going to call all of his connections, lawyer up as much as he can, and take the boy to the NOLA PD. Yes, of course, the shell-shocked kid can bring his dog with him for the ride.
Except, oops. Adam didn’t kill just anyone; he killed Rocco Baxter (Benjamin Hassan Wadsworth), the son of someone very, very bad: a New Orleans mob boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, Gina (Hope Davis).
Suddenly, Michael’s deleting incriminating surveillance footage, wiping away blood smears, and calling in favors from his own connected buddy (Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Charlie) to make the car disappear, moral code be damned. All for a case that anyone who spent a lazy Sunday watching Law & Order reruns could solve—even if, in the four episodes that were provided to the press, neither police officer Nancy Costello (Amy Landecker), nor attorney Lee Delamere (Carmen Ejogo) seem to suspect the delicate flower that is Adam. The kid just lost his mom! He has asthma! He wants to make sure his dog gets his meds when the lock him up!
Your Honor is created by Peter Moffat and is based on the Ron Ninio and Shlomo Mashiach’s Israeli series Kvodo. And it’s easy to draw comparisons to Richard Price and Steven Zaillian’s The Night Of, the 2016 HBO miniseries based on Moffat’s 2008 British series Criminal Justice. The Night Of, which starred Riz Ahmed and John Turturro, also had a wrong-place-wrong-time situation, but with an innocent party who happened to be a person of color. It was meant to look at how a corrupt or overburdened penal system could ruin the lives of those who aren’t wealthy enough to fight it … before it digressed into tangents involving eczema and cat adoption.
The acting in Your Honor is fine, although it’s an interesting choice that neither Cranston nor almost anyone else attempts the Nawlins drawl. And I see you, director Edward Berger and your shot of Adam and Michael arriving home after not going to the police through the streaked window of the dirty station wagon/murder weapon, the windshield wiper in particular focus to indicate just how much Michael must wipe clean to save himself and his son. But, like The Night Of, this story also struggles with its own clunky subplots. Naturally, Davis’ Gina isn’t just a grieving mother. She’s also the true mastermind in the crime family and the one to unflinchingly jump-start cold-blooded retaliation when the family perceives Rocco’s killing to be a hit from a rival crime syndicate. Meanwhile, her husband gets drunk and destroys a birdcage when the animal inside of it refuses to fly free (because, metaphor?). Of course, Michael also starts a romantic entanglement with his former protégé, Ejogo’s Lee. And the audience isn’t given enough time to ponder the coincidence that Kofi Jones, the kid tasked with making the car disappear and who is excellently played by Lamar Johnson, is the son of the woman previously on trial in Michael’s courtroom. (Maybe that’s because, as Gina cooly says in a later episode, New Orleans is a small and well-connected town?)
But where Your Honor really falters is its depiction of privilege. Adam is a white kid who is fiercely protected, not just by his dad but by his grandmother (Margo Martindale), who is a senator. Yeah, his dad told him on the way to the precinct that he wouldn’t make bail. But Michael also said he that he was going to do the smart thing and lawyer up before going down there. The accident happened when Adam was fleeing the neighborhood where his mother was killed after leaving a memorial at the spot where she died; he was distracted because he thought some intimidating-looking Black people were following him.
Michael knew when he asked Charlie to have his car disappear from his driveway that someone else was going to have to get his hands dirty. But he also knew that this person would be from some other sector of the population; someone whom he assumed was used to doing stuff like this—no questions asked. Michael should have known, or perhaps he didn’t care, that this wouldn’t be such an easy theft and that Kofi and his family would pay dearly for the act.
Now, in 2020, would be a great time to have a conversation about how the rules change and how the story looks different when you put a white boy with no rap sheet behind the wheel versus a Black one with a gang tattoo. Unfortunately, from the episodes available so far, Your Honor doesn’t quite get there.
Your Honor premieres Sunday, December 6th on Showtime.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.
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