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‘Your Honor’ review: slow-burning legal drama borrows from ‘Breaking Bad’

Bryan Cranston's star power can't cover up this tawdry thriller's greatest crimes

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
Bryan Cranston stars as Judge Desiato in 'Your Honor'. CREDIT: Sky
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Breaking Bad fans who have been missing that seminal crime drama since it left the air in 2013 may not yet have found a direct replacement. But anyone who misses the sight of a Bryan Cranston character improvising lies to wriggle out of a legally sticky situation will be comforted by Cranston’s new project Your Honor, a 10-episode miniseries that reconfigures a recent Israeli show into a mosaic of New Orleans crime stories.

Cranston starts from an even more upright position this time. He plays Michael Desiato, a judge so scrupulously dedicated to the truth that he makes a point of checking out a cop witness’s story independently, figuring out the witness is lying about a drug bust. When his teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan) has a hit-and-run car accident – Adam crashes into a young motorcyclist, stops long enough to be with him as he dies, then panics and drives away – Michael initially advocates going to the police. But he reverses course when he realises his son’s victim is part of the “most vicious crime family in the city,” led by now-grieving father Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). Judge Desiato has the resources to cover his son’s tracks, though doing so is still a scramble.

Judge Desiato’s son is played by Hunter Doohan. CREDIT: Sky

The circumstances of the accident and its immediate aftermath involve both heady issues and bad luck. It’s all stacked and compressed together into a dense block of contrivances: grief on top of racial divides on top of asthma on top of a near-empty gas tank on top of more grief. The premiere is both viscerally effective and pretty absurd; while four subsequent episodes all have their gripping moments, they continue in this vein of melodrama, misery, and portent.

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Your Honor seems to want to paint a detailed portrait of contemporary New Orleans – and visually it does, with rich colours and shadows. It also has substantial star power, with Cranston and Stuhlbarg joined by other heavy-hitters like The Wire‘s Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Golden Globe-nominated actress Hope Davis. Despite all this, there’s something vaguely tawdry about its attempts to weave together a bunch of socially conscious New Orleans story threads (and the fact that Davis must directly verbalise that interconnectedness). Maybe it’s because, five episodes in, the show stresses the pain of its Black characters while giving the white characters more screen time. Adam in particular has subplots that play like nonsense reheated from envelope-pushing teen dramas, while the main story takes a hooky but fairly shameless turn towards mystery in episode five. The show’s loftier goals are often neglected.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays a grieving mob boss. CREDIT: Sky

It’s not fair to compare every show Cranston ever does to Breaking Bad, but it’s also hard not to think of that past triumph during scenes of him frantically destroying evidence and manipulating alibis (albeit with greater calm and less self-righteousness than Walter White). Breaking Bad merged intense and involving drama with pulpy thrills, like a page-turner with sharply drawn characters. Your Honor combines similar elements, with much less wit. It’s somehow more dour and, in its quieter way, more ridiculous.

‘Your Honor’ arrives on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV today (March 2)

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