- By AC Remler
- Photos Courtesy of Showtime
Six-time Emmy award winning actor Bryan Cranston always seems to find himself in morally fraught predicaments. First, as Walter White in Breaking Bad, a chemistry school teacher-turned-drug kingpin who manufactures crack as a dying effort to support his family; and now as misguided New Orleans Supreme Court judge Michael Desiato in Showtime’s new limited series Your Honor. The heart-thumping legal drama, adapted from the Israeli television series Kvodo, began streaming Dec. 6 to the largest audience in Showtime’s history for a limited drama series premiere. It’s no wonder: all the dark twists and plot turns catapults this thriller into a modern day Greek tragedy. Cranston’s Desiato is a deeply respected and seasoned judge with a strong moral compass and legal passion for helping the city’s downtrodden. There’s not a dirty copy around he won’t expose – even if that sometimes means trying cases in unorthodox ways.
In the premiere episode, the plot is set in motion through rapid scene cuts in which each character take shape. Michael’s son Adam (Hunter Doohan) is driving away from what appears to be the site where his mother died on the anniversary of her death. After paying homage with a family photo, he is pursued (inexplicably) by ominous neighborhood thugs. The scene then cuts to the judge on an early morning jog; he stops briefly to peer through the door of a home in a poor neighborhood. Next, we meet a close-knit family in an extremely nice home. The son, Rocco, is being given a birthday present—a vintage motorcycle, which he takes off riding. All these worlds collide—literally—when Adam, while being chased by the street ruffians, reaches for his inhaler during an asthma attack and accidentally mows Rocco down. In a heart-wrenching and extremely bloody scene, Adam tries to administer CPR and calls 911, but then drives off from the scene in a panic leaving the boy to die on the curb. After he tells his father what has happened, the two decide to go to the police. Plans change when the judge walks into the precinct and learns his son has killed the son of a viscous local mobster Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). The honorable judge does an about-face and orders Adam to dispose of the evidence and never talk of it again. Not ever. During the ensuing nine episodes, the judge’s lies become more and more compounded as he wrestles with upholding the law or turning in his son. How far will he go to cover Adam’s tracks? Cranston, who also executive produces the series, recently told the LA Times “For him at that moment, it was the right decision. My character wasn’t about to take a chance that this mob boss wouldn’t harm my child.”
The series creates a tension so taught, you think your screen might explode with each new episode. Part of that has to do with the original score by German composer / pianist Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka). His use of string instruments in building an emotional pressure cooker is genius –- each pluck of the string hits our rattled nerves, while the slow melancholic cello and piano chord progressions create a somber mood. The soundtrack also includes such notable songs as Treaty by Leonard Cohen, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division and a beautiful soprano duet from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The series also exposes the extreme racial wealth divides that continue to plague New Orleans due to systemic racism and prejudice perpetuated by those in power. It’s disturbing to see the abject poverty in communities of color and the dysfunctional urban infrastructure that keeps them there.
Hope Davis (About Schmidt) plays the mobster’s bereaving wife Gina, living every parent’s nightmare of a son’s life cut short of possibility. As an anguished mother, we see her destroyed by grief and demanding justice—one way or another. Meanwhile, Isiah Whitlock (The Wire) stars as Michael’s best friend Charlie, a mayoral candidate who compromises his own credibility to help the judge cover his tracks. And Cranston does not disappoint as an emotionally complex purveyor of justice, proving that perhaps when pushed to a breaking point, we all have a dark side waiting to emerge.
“Your Honor” is now airing on Showtime.