No matter the word count, Bryan Cranston is a name that can attract an audience no matter the medium. After a break from one of the greatest television shows of all time, “Breaking Bad,” he’s back on the small screen. The only difference is that this time forces him to commit a crime for a much different purpose. Cranston plays Jude Michael Desiato, who’s forced to question his own morality when his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) is involved in a hit and run with a notorious gangster’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) son. This forces both Desiato men to go down an ethical line neither expected. Over these first five episodes, it makes these “honest” men break every moral rule. If you enjoyed seeing that when Cranston “broke bad” then you won’t be disappointed. Though there’s nothing in this series so far that skims the surface of one of the greatest television series of all time.
On the positive side of the equation is Cranston’s absolutely brilliant, melancholic and devastating performance. Desiato is someone who starts the series with a moral compass that bleeds patriotism. This question of morality he faces hit me so hard particularly in the first scene of episode one when he finds out what has happened. Unlike a character who was as vocal as Walter White, Desiato is someone who’s understandably subdued. He’s a character that is riddled with a tragic amount of loss and pain involving the death of his wife. For him and his son, there's loneliness to them even though they have each other. Simultaneously in their most mundane interactions, even about their dog, you see Cranston’s undying love for his son. Particularly in episode four, you see that love portrayed through Cranston deleting video evidence. Playing both the patriot and the outlaw is a different shade in his paintbox as a performer, I found it quite impressive.
Where the show really falters is within its usage of the characters around Desiato. These supporting characters are played by massive talents Carmen Ejogo, Hope Davis, Isaiah Whitlock Jr, and the great character actress Margot Martindale. All of these actors are given their individual moments to shine, but it’s not much more than minuscule blips. It’s a rather frustrating angle to take when these characters could really raise the tension for the Desiato’s situation. Maybe things could change in the latter half of the season, but at this time all these great actors seem wasted.
We’re given moments throughout these first five episodes to flesh out these characters and we instead focus on viciousness. That viciousness focuses on the crimes Desiato is willing to commit in order to keep his son free. While it really plays as a gratuitous (particularly in episodes two and three) look at prison culture, I'd be lying if I said it wasn’t effective. The show deals quite heavily with the topic of race and racial inequality at the hands of the justice system. There are some moments that relish in the violence (mostly in episode three) that just came off as over the top. It’s a rather frustrating idea for a show that remained rather subtle for its first two episodes.
In most of my television reviews, I have beaten the drum of wishing episodes could be released at once. “Your Honor” is a show that works better in a week-to-week delivery to its audience. It’s one that wants to focus on shining a light on the inequalities in the justice system but tips its hand in some cases. Thankfully we have some great actors and an outstanding lead performance that keeps us locked to the screen. I just hope that in the show’s second half, we can focus on more than just building a lie.