Prestige TV diehards may recall the AMC series Breaking Bad, in which Bryan Cranston starred as an upstanding Albuquerque chemistry teacher who turns to crime to leave something for his wife and son after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Older fans may even remember the actor’s work in the comedy Malcolm in the Middle, in which he played a harassed father constantly picking up the pieces after his miscreant children. Cranston bows to no one in depicting the nuances of parental devotion.
For Your Honor (Sky Atlantic), adapted from an Israeli series by Britain’s own Peter Moffat, Cranston exercises his exceptional dad skills once again. He is Michael Desiato, a well-respected New Orleans judge whose life becomes a nightmare when his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) is involved in a hit and run. I say involved: he does the hitting and running.
It’s a 10-episode “mini series”, which means there’s no shortage of breathing room for the set pieces. The crash is a case in point. Driving through the impoverished 9th ward, Adam is intimidated by a gang and starts to panic. Distracted, he smashes into a motorcycle, sending its rider sprawling through the air. Adam, a conscientious young man, tries to perform CPR but it’s a hopeless case. He calls 911 but is too shocked to speak, so all we hear is the operator on the other end of the line. The boy dies. It’s a gruesome, lingering, sequence, and the camera follows him as he drives home.
Less believable is Cranston’s initial grandstanding in the courtroom. He toys with a lying witness, a scene designed to show us he is not corrupt or racist but also hints at a flair for showmanship, which may come in handy later. After coaxing Adam into coming clean, Michael takes him to the police station, but before Adam surrenders himself, Michael learns that the dead boy is the son of a local crime lord, Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). If Adam comes clean, he’ll be killed, so instead Michael must use his knowledge of the prosecution process to evade it.
Your Honor is elegantly shot, with credible dialogue and a robust, well-made quality. Cranston and Doohan are a plausible duo. Michael, the upholder of justice, decides in a moment that his son’s life takes precedence over the abstract concepts to which he has devoted his career. “I got you, buddy,” Michael says, cradling his desperate son, and we believe him. Adam, used to taking his father’s word as the law, struggles with the change. It’s a promising dynamic, but it’s not helped by the glacial pacing. When the BBC rattled through War & Peace in six hours, a single-narrative series has a lot to do to earn 10. Your Honor never spends a minute when it can spend two. The first episode establishes the core relationship at the expense of other characters. Just because the law’s not running smoothly doesn’t mean it can’t be a bit dull.