Adam Desiato (Hunter Doohan) kills another teenager in a hit-and-run incident and his father (Bryan Cranston), a New Orleans judge, convinces him to face the music. But when it becomes apparent the dead boy’s father is don to the city’s biggest crime family, the judge decides to risk everything and cover up the crime.
Episodes viewed: 4 of 10
Watch on: Sky Atlantic / Now TV
Comparisons with Bryan Cranston’s career-defining role as Walter White might seem trite, but the shadow of Breaking Bad looms large over this limited Showtime/Sky Atlantic series. So much so, in fact, that you can’t help wondering if having cast Cranston as the morally upright man forced to embrace criminality for the sake of his family might be Your Honor’s biggest problem. Cranston is, of course, exemplary, but in such familiar territory here that it’s impossible not to draw unfavourable comparisons with Vince Gilligan’s superior series.
Developed by Peter Moffat (Criminal Justice, Silk) from the Israeli series Kvodo, Your Honor slow-burns its premise over a rather indulgent ten hours as Judge Desiato (Bryan Cranston) strays further and further from the righteous path. The first episode, written by Moffat, starts strong, languidly unspooling a routine morning in two separate households, which gradually converge in the fateful crash — a superbly constructed sequence, layered with misdirection that leaves you in a similar state of shock to Adam himself.
Your Honor never truly gets beneath the skin of its premise and is too light on story to warrant its generous runtime.
Having established himself not only as a judge, but one of such improbable moral character that he’ll investigate a case on the side just to call out a lying cop on the stand, Judge Desiato naturally prescribes the righteous path when Adam comes clean. But upon learning the identity of the dead boy’s father, a crime family’s don, he quickly realises the gangster’s vengeful fury would make a confession unwise.
The story begins to drag quite early on, but the show’s draw lies in just how adept Desiato proves at breaking bad, deftly derailing the investigation, destroying evidence and smooth-talking his way out of nerve-jangling binds. Forcing his son to physically act out an alibi after the fact (“so you won’t have to construct the lie”) and reaching out to a family friend (an excellent Isiah Whitlock Jr) to make the offending car disappear, Desiato is frighteningly adroit at perverting the course of justice. It’s not until another kid is arrested for the crime and consciences start to weigh heavy that the perfect cover-up begins to unravel.
Doohan does a decent job wrestling with the turmoil of internalised guilt as Adam subconsciously does everything possible to sabotage his father’s efforts. Meanwhile, a raft of strong supporting players includes a chilling Hope Davis as grieving moll Gina Baxter, and Margo Martindale, who lights up the screen as Desiato’s no-nonsense mother-in-law.
In the end, though, this is Cranston’s show to steal, and he imbues the wayward judge with the same cocktail of desperation and determination that made Walter White so compelling. But Your Honor never truly gets beneath the skin of its premise and, based on the episodes seen, is too light on story to warrant its generous runtime. There’s tension to spare, but it spends too much time chasing its tail to be considered essential viewing. Especially when this particular formula has been so expertly mixed elsewhere.
Cranston breaks bad once again in a tense but patchy drama that asks interesting questions but takes an age finding the answers.