According to the old maxim, European cinema portrays complex folk dealing with everyday situations, while American cinema does the exact opposite: putting ordinary characters in extreme positions. And if there was ever a series that lived up to the adage, it has to be “Breaking Bad”, with mediocre high school teacher turned unlikely drug lord. Bryan Cranston will be forever pigeon-holed for this role, and while he has experimented with other registers – from Power Rangers mentor to President Lyndon B. Johnson – for the average viewer, he’ll always be Walter White.
In “Your Honor” Cranston picks up the gauntlet and takes on a role that actually overlaps in several areas with the character that made him famous. The series narrates the story of Judge Michael Desiato, a man immersed in a moral dilemma of biblical proportions. His adolescent son has unintentionally killed another young man in a car accident. So, just as the judge is about to hand his son over to the police, trusting that he’ll get a slap on the wrist and escape more severe punishment, despite having fled the scene of the accident in panic, he discovers that the victim is not just any old John Doe, but the son of one of the capo of a major New Orleans crime syndicate. With that, he rethinks, regroups and decides not to deliver his son assuming he’ll be murdered in retaliation, but instead begins to hatch a plan to prevent his son from being discovered.
Fundamentally, the series follows the normally upright and brilliant judge as he attempts to keep his son’s alibi alive, despite every effort on the part of destiny to have it put down. Drama designed to make you suffer, as audiences accompany Judge Desiato, well-aware and better informed than the rest of the characters whose mission it is to find out exactly how the accident happened. The fact that the young driver is actually a good guy – sometimes to the point of caricature – and that there are so many extenuating circumstances that alleviate the heavy burden of guilt for what happened, invites viewers to participate in the dilemma between seeing justice being done or turning the page.
This is the surface plot. But as expected in a series that comes from the union formed by Robert and Michelle King – responsible, for example, for “The Good Fight” – “Your Honor” has a certain, let’s say editorial line that’s political. For example, the racial question is very present throughout the story and the cover-up of the accident results in putting a young black teenager under unimaginable pressure. Race and the consequences of structural poverty which appear in several secondary and parallel storylines.
On the other hand, the judicial element is attributed to screenwriter Peter Moffat, who before hanging up his robes and turning to screenwriting (“The Night Of”, “Criminal Justice”) was actually a barrister, the British figure assimilable to that of a court lawyer. Despite the fact that “Your Honor” is the adaptation of Israeli series “Kvodo”, Moffat leveraged his knowledge of everything that goes on in court behind the scenes. The robes, suits and briefcases might impose a certain authority, but underneath there are still humans with all the contradictions of the human condition.
And the entire tale is narrated with great efficiency and several moments of brilliance. The scene of the accident, for example, is truly intense and meticulous given the lurid details that once again will give you flashbacks to “Breaking Bad”. But the series in no way sets out to be a replica: the action is much more associated with the judicial procedure, only with a somewhat richer visual packaging than your bog standard court-based show. With some fine secondary acting to perfectly round out the proposal, especially Michael Stuhlbarg as a mob boss (in a radically different role from his starring role in the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”, which catapulted him into the limelight) and Amy Landecker (one of the siblings from “Transparent”, who here plays a detective hell-bent on getting to the bottom of the case).
In the best tradition of noir, the series shows us how corruption finds its way into every corner of society, even infecting the most upright and honest folk when they’re between a rock and a hard place. Meanwhile, the three principal young characters in the series end up falling victim to the world they are supposed to inherit. The look at the bigger picture is anything but pleasant.