On TV this week, Bryan Cranston plays an easy-going, jovial father, who is forced to spin a confounding web of deception and lies to cover up his involvement in crime as he descends deeper into a violent underworld. Sadly, the clocks haven’t been wound back 10 years, and Breaking Bad (2008-2013) isn’t what’s being described here. Your Honor takes an extremely similar premise with very similar actors and does much, much less than its spiritual forefather, leaving the excited viewer disappointed as the series progresses.
The whole series can’t be rated on the strength of the first few episodes, but the long-term concerns are here to stay.
Cranston plays a judge whose son accidentally runs over the teenage kid of New Jersey’s nastiest mob boss, forcing him to cover up the crime to protect his son from reprisal. It’s a good premise that could go a long way, but the decision to cast Bryan Cranston as the lead feels like a potential disaster for the show. Cranston is known ubiquitously for Breaking Bad – it’s his most recognised part by far, and by casting him in such a similar role, Your Honor forces viewers to compare it to Breaking Bad over and over. This must’ve been great for marketing – here’s more of that thing the audience loved! But, like a Disney reboot of a classic animation, the series then has to match up in quality to its predecessor unflinchingly, and Your Honor doesn’t hold up to one of the best shows ever produced, not by a mile.
In order to sell us on another everyman descending into the world of crime, Your Honor recognises that it has to make its suite of starting characters relatable, before they turn dark. But whereas Breaking Bad was quiet and immersive as it built up its world, Your Honor is ham-fisted and clunky. Cranston’s first scene as Judge Desiato is laughable, as he verbally smites a nasty racist cop in court in order to champion a poor single mother, throwing any sense of believability out the window in a hackneyed, cringeworthy attempt at characterisation. The first episode throws trope after trope at the viewer in an attempt to make the main cast likeable. Desiato’s teenage son has asthma. His wife died years ago in a tragic shooting (a common trope known as “fridging”). Desiato is well-known and beloved all over town, for inexplicable reasons – are judges usually famous? Initial impressions are important in slow-burning dramas like Your Honor, and while it’s not unsalvageable, it’s a poor start for sure.
The Kids Aren’t Alright
The inciting incident of the plot is tense, but leaves a lot to be desired. It’s gory in an almost tacky way sometimes – a dying teenager vomiting blood all over another teenager feels…out of place for the genre. The decision of Desiato’s son, Adam, to drive away from the teenager he just killed also doesn’t endear him to the audience, despite the show’s attempts to dismiss it as an effect of shock. It doesn’t help either that Adam is one of the least believable TV teenagers since Grease. He doesn’t remotely look or act 17, and it’s not surprising to learn that the actor, Hunter Doohan, is actually 27. The acting is generally good, but the writing isn’t strong enough at the moment to allow the audience to appreciate any character or anticipate their arrival on screen. Next week, a full review of the series will be finished. Perhaps it will improve dramatically in quality, but the initial impressions don’t indicate that. For fans of Breaking Bad – watch at your peril.
Image: Martin Kraft via Wikimedia Commons