I wasn’t expecting to see Mark Bomback’s name on the opening titles of “Defending Jacob.” I wouldn’t have thought anyone, not even Apple TV+, would trust Mark (Total Recall: The Remake) Bomback with an eight episode limited series.
The episode opens with a very sad Chris Evans walking into the courthouse. We don’t know it’s Chris Evans yet, we just know director Morten Tyldum is really fixated on the brand logo on the back of Evans’s jacket. You’d think a company worth $1.4 billion wouldn’t do product placement but whatever. (Yes, “Jacob” is my first Apple TV+ series).
Evans is at the courthouse for a grand jury, which gets an exposition dump by prosecutor Pablo Schreiber, who’s going to get immediately hostile with former de facto mentor Evans. Plus Evans is a better lawyer and knows how to do questions right or something. The grand jury likes him more than Schreiber.
Flashbacking a year, we find Evans happy at home with eighth grade son Jaeden Martell and wife Michelle Dockery. Dockery’s not in it a lot this episode; she’s trying a very mild Boston accent. It doesn’t stay long.
But after the tranquil montage—albeit set to Season of the Witch—a classmate of Martell’s body is found in a nearby forest preserve. Where… you guessed it… we find out Martell walks to school.
The middle of the episode is Martell being incredibly suspicious from go—he calls dad Evans during a school lockdown, which isn’t a thing (also wouldn’t he just check the news on his phone to see what’s going on)—and Evans ignoring all of it.
Evans works for Sakina Jaffrey. All the Brown people have supporting roles, like Jaffrey or Evans’s investigator, Betty Gabriel. Then Dockery has some at her work too.
But Dockery and Evans and the rest of the White folks are woke enough to know how to shiva for the dead Jewish kid. It’s all very forced. Because Bomback writes in dialogue tropes.
Evans gets the most to do in the episode. He and Dockery don’t seem grown-up enough to have an eighth grader. Though Evans is also really bad at his job, like incompetently. So when victim’s dad Patrick Fischler baits Evans… it’s a surprise, because you think he’s going to be a smart lawyer guy. Only he’s not. So when it starts dawning on him Martell might be a sociopath—Martell doesn’t care about the kid dying, thinks anyone who does is lying, and posts such thoughts online… he also has a knife (or so his classmates post online while accusing him of the murder).
Fischler’s really good.
No one else is really good. Jordan Alexa Davis, an interrogated acquaintance of Martell’s, is pretty good. Her part’s bad though. The kid interrogation scenes are poorly done in general
So far, “Defending Jacob” is a pseudo-vanity project. Evans doesn’t have the ego, but he also doesn’t have a character because Bomback’s writing is so weak. There’s a scene where Schreiber—in the flashback—confronts Evans in front of boss Jaffrey about Evans not working hard on the case and, it’s like, right, Evans isn’t working hard on it. “Defending Jacob” is a terrible investigation procedural.
I suppose it’s also convinced me never to read the source novel by William Landay.