‘Your Honor’ Review: Bryan Cranston is back in his element in Showtime’s legal drama

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Bryan Cranston is synonymous with Breaking Bad and vice versa. The statement is perhaps just as axiomatic as saying that sun rises in the east and sets in the west or saying that December is the twelfth and final month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. And, it’s going to stay that way for a long, long time to come. That’s exactly what happens to you when you become the face of an exemplary show that goes on to revolutionize the long-form storytelling. Today, it’s nigh impossible not to think of Walter White and Breaking Bad every time Cranston appears in something new. Showtime’s latest offering Your Honor, which will be available in India on Voot Select, stars Cranston in the role of a respected New Orleans judge whose teenage son gets involved in a hit-and-run that leads to a game of deceit and one-upmanship in the face of insurmountable odds. Halfway into the first episode when the son tells his protective father about his predicament, Cranston really shines as a performer like only someone of his caliber can. But we are immediately drawing comparisons with Walter White. I believe it’s a weight that Cranston must carry on his shoulders. For, it’s not something that can be done away with. The viewers too must learn to deal with it. This assessment of Your Honor, a 10-episode legal thriller helmed by Peter Moffat, is on the basis of the first four episodes that have been made available to critics by Showtime as part of a special press preview.

Now, Your Honor shares many similarities to Breaking Bad, not the least of which is Cranston. But it isn’t exactly a perfect show like Breaking Bad. I think it’s important to set the record straight so that the expectations are kept under check right from the onset. Let’s first discuss the strongest aspects of the show. The New Orleans setting of the series is what needs to be praised. Once seldom gets to see such a strong sense of the locales in a crime thriller series but Moffat is really not someone to go easy on the detail. Over the years so many memorable movies have been set in New Orleans (A Streetcar Named Desire, Easy Rider, Live and Let Die, Cat People, Tightrope, New Orleans, Angel Heart, Blaze, Hard Target, Double Jeopardy, Déjà Vu, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, among others) and while watching Your Honor, one is immediately reminded of them. For a keen-eyed and informed viewer, it’s nothing less than a rendezvous with nostalgia.

Another strong area of the series is the strong acting performances on offer with Cranston leading from the front. Essaying the part of Michael Desiato, a well-respected judge with a strong sense of justice for the underprivileged who is quick to forgo his moralities and relationships in order to protect his son, Cranston never really misses a note. He is brilliantly supported by an ensemble cast that features the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg (as Jimmy Baxter, the much-feared head of a crime family), Hope Davis (as Baxter’s unforgiving and vengeful wife Gina who is perhaps even more dangerous than her husband), Hunter Doohan (as Desiato’s asthmatic son Adam who accidentally kills Baxter’s son), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (as Desiato’s best friend and confidante Charlie), Carmen Ejogo (as a high profile lawyer and Desiato’s former intern Lee), Margo Martindale (as Desiato’s mother-in-law Elisabeth), Sofia Black-D'Elia (as Adam’s teacher and paramour), Lamar Johnson, and Amy Landecker, among others. The best scenes, of course, take place between Cranston and Doohan. They are tender, often painful, and sometimes explosive. Also, Cranston and Ejogo share an interesting chemistry.

Your Honor is based on the Israeli series Kvodo, created by Ron Ninio and Shlomo Mashiach, which ran for two seasons from 2017 - 2019. Interestingly, SonyLIV had come out with an Indian adaptation of Kvodo a few months back, also titled Your Honor, with Jimmy Sheirgill in the lead and set in the city of Ludhiana, Punjab. The beauty with series remakes is that the writers tend to take a lot of liberties and often end up with something that’s entirely new as we saw with House of Cards. The Showtime series, for example, offers a strong social commentary that exposes white privilege and the widespread prejudice against Black Africans. And, in doing so, it succeeds in establishing a strong dialogue with Black Lives Matter movement and widespread conversations about racism in the US. However, as a crime thriller series, Your Honor leaves a lot to be desired. While there is no dearth of drama and emotions, the moments of genuine thrill are few and far between. As a matter of fact, it starts on a high note with the ghastly accident that sets up the plot. Everything that follows it somehow fails to match its intensity. Here is a slow-burner that revels in its characterization rather than the plot. So, if you are looking for a solid character study with terrific performances then Your Honor wouldn’t disappoint you.

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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