What Else? Your Honor

Sometimes there isn’t enough time on the Taking It Down podcast to get to all of pop culture. With “What Else?” Blaine Duncan covers some other things he’s watched, heard, or read.

Critics are having a hard time deciding whether Your Honor, Showtime’s current series starring Bryan Cranston, is good.

It is.

The hemming and hawing of reviewers revolve around two things: how much of Your Honor leans into Cranston’s classic character Walter White (a fair judgement) and how much the show wants to tackle serious issues rather than dance around them — or even just employ them as a plot point. That’s a fine scale to use for weight; I’m not above examining a show’s purported issues to help decide its value. The fault, though, is that with Your Honor that debate is more about if the show needs an application of the prestige label, an obstacle veering away from the obvious: the show is just damned entertaining.

And Your Honor does actually offer up weighty ideas of family, race, justice, privilege, and guilt. It also manages to reckon with those abstracts while putting on a measured, dramatic production. Sometimes it is limited in its depth on the heaviest of issues, but that doesn’t stop it from offering a meticulous bit of television that still feels action packed. (Note: the show is adapted from an Israeli TV series.)

Your Honor has Cranston doing great acting — to the surprise of no one — as he plays a New Orleans judge Michael Desiatos whose son finds himself in a disastrous situation in the opening minutes of the first episode. Adam, the seventeen-year-old son, finds that his powerful father is the only person who can help, if anyone can help at all.

As far as plot goes, knowing that there are more threads that spin out of Adam’s one mistake should be plenty enough for viewers to jump in. Showrunner Peter Moffat doles out events so that the series manages to have a balance of quiet, character-driven moments and explosive unveilings, both of which propel the story over ten episodes.

Your Honor also looks great. One of the many ways are the use of camera angles to build the tragedy, all of which blend so as not to get in the way of story. Take crime boss Jimmy Baxter, played by the excellent Michael Stahlbarg (who’s been missing from the screen too long), often shot from below, offering the shorter actor no less stature than his fellows on screen. Stahlbarg has the stillness of a powerful actor while still being menacing. The camera structures this with his performance.

It’s another welcome to have Isiah Whitlock, Jr. back on television; fans of The Wire will surely agree. Here he plays a mayoral candidate closely linked to Cranston’s judge Michael Desiato; not surprisingly, Whitlock manages to smile through the toughest of decisions. Hell, the great Margo Martindale even has a small role as Adam’s grandmother. It’s a stellar cast, all of whom fit their role to perfection.

Of course, it’s yet to be seen if Moffat and the writers can tie all the threads together for a cohesive and satisfying conclusion, but so far, it’s been worth the ride. And like Judge Michael Desiatos, critics be damned for their indecision.

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