Michelle Dockery

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e08 – After

Did you ever see the movie, Before and After? I haven’t. I haven’t read the book either. So I’m not sure if the dad covering up the teenager murdering someone or the mom covering up the teenager murdering someone talks about how it’s “before and after” when it comes to the murdering teen. On “Defending Jacob,” however, it’s definitely Chris Evans. He goes on about it at length and is very clear about the “before and after.”

Again, as always with this show, who’s so unoriginal, show writer and creator Mark Bomback or source novel author William Landay. I don’t actually care, I’d just like to accurately assign blame.

Anyway.

The episode starts with Evans sleeping on the couch because it’s a smart show and it’s telling us it’s the morning after the previous episode and he’s still in trouble. A big deus ex machina descends and changes fate for everyone. It’s such a big swing, it’s like Landay didn’t want to have to figure out how to write any more courtroom stuff because he’s not good at it.

Suffice to say, they’re out of court sooner than the thought, everything decided.

Or is it.

The last episode of “Defending Jacob,” which is the eighth episode and runs about 60 minutes out of 400 total or whatever… is where there’s some story. Is it good story? It’s better story than the show. Even with what amounts to be a nonsense framing device with the bookends—all so they can be low-key sexist and do a men’s rights fist bump but not in a bad way just the privileged White man way—nothing can prepare for what a waste of time everything until this episode has been.

I’m not sure what a good writer could do with this project—and we’ll never know because they didn’t make it into a movie and I’m not reading William Landay ever now—but a better writer might’ve come up with a decent structure. Just like Ed Norton could’ve saved the lead. Or poor Michelle Dockery, who really should’ve said no. Of course, Jaeden Martell isn’t any good. J.K. Simmons in a bit cameo shouldn’t be the best performance.

The ending’s really silly. On a few levels.

Including some logic ones and some character development ones.

“Defending Jacob” actually ends up being more insipid than I thought it’d be and I thought it’d be pretty dang insipid.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e07 – Job

Finally the start of the courtroom episodes, which are apparently going to be two because it’s the second-to-last episode. It opens with a flashback to Pablo Schreiber with a goatee getting advice from—oh, look, they were friendly once—Chris Evans. Evans gives Schreiber a list of things to work on so if you want to wait to see if Schreiber uses them against Jaeden Martell… He uses at least one.

I’m not sure about the rest. I lost interest in tracking them.

It’s trial time and the “good guys” feel ready. Cherry Jones continues to be great and Schreiber’s a good bad guy; Daryl Edwards is good as the judge. Ben Taylor’s really good as the friend of Martell who’s got the most damning testimony, which surprises Jones, Evans, and Michelle Dockery. Turns out Martell wasn’t being forthcoming about all the possible evidence against him and it’s a big problem. It’s also a big problem because Evans should’ve found it but didn’t actually do the work to find out about it. And he never told Dockery about any of it, which eventually leads to her saying how their whole marriage is a shame because they’re only together to… pretend it’s a fairytale. Or something.

Dockery and Evans are nap-inducing when they’re alone together—or icky when they’re having weird sex scenes all over the house—so it’s a really disinteresting argument scene.

Other important developments this episode include J.K. Simmons calling to check up on the trial, the cops tracking down professional thug (who’s following Evans and Dockery) William Xifaras, and Patrick Fischler and Megan Byrne fighting in the courtroom. They’re the dead kids parents. Might be more interesting if it was there story too, especially since we still don’t know how Fischler decided Martell was guilty the day after the murder or whatever. Fischler’s good but he’s barely in the show.

It ends with a big surprise—though not really, not if you’ve got a fourth grader’s understanding of foreshadowing—involving pedophile suspect Daniel Henshall. But at least it’s about to be over.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e06 – Wishful Thinking

Last episode they were at like seven weeks from the trial, now it’s ten days before the trial. Apparently nothing interesting happened in five weeks, which is believable given “Defending Jacob.”

The episode opens with Chris Evans and lawyer Cherry Jones looking at the dead kid’s cellphone, which prosecuting attorney Pablo Schreiber was going to keep secret because Schreiber’s a dick. Schreiber also baits Evans about his dad being in prison and Evans roughs him up. Interestingly, 6’5” Schreiber is wearing lifts to be even taller than 6’ Evans. Just want to know whose idea the lifts were.

Then Betty Gabriel bonds with Evans over incarcerated family—her brother’s in prison, which she apparently told him over the years and he didn’t share about his dad. Because they’re not friends.

Gabriel also warns Evans Schreiber has something great in the case because he’s overconfident.

Through in some quick distraction about Jaeden Martell going online with a crappy self-made meme based on American Psycho: The Movie because American Psycho: The Movie is big with the tweens in 2020. Though I suppose it’s at least not a Paramount release. The family talks and watches multiple Paramount eighties favorites (Paramount produced the show for Apple TV+). Though this episode has Daniel Henshall watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers when the cops search his house because Hale Lytle comes forward with some information about Henshall. Lytle and mom Therese Plaehn are some of the better actors in the show.

Anyway—Martell going online. Evans yells at him about it. It’s a thing.

There’s also a chase scene when a car is following Michelle Dockery on her daily jog. It ought to be a good scene. It’s terrible. Morten Tyldum’s is terrible. Thank goodness the story’s not more thrilling, the show would be even worse.

The end has shrink Poorna Jagannathan giving Evans and Dockery the summary of her findings on Martell. It’s the Friday before the trial or something, and Martell’s birthday, which doesn’t matter at all. Except to show Martell’s character development so far in the series—thanks to his ordeal, he’s started liking metaphor in literature.

As Chris Evans, in the grand jury bookend, tries to emote, it occurred to me this show would be amazing—with all its problems—if only they’d gotten Edward Norton.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e05 – Visitors

The episode opens with Chris Evans driving to see his father in prison to get a DNA swab so they can test for the murder gene intercut with the middle school graduation Jaeden Martell is missing. The school choir is singing Circle Game by Joni Mitchell, which is a great song but a very odd choice. “Defending Jacob” tries to have a personality and somehow just ends up more bland for it.

J.K. Simmons, in the only special guest star casting so far, plays the dad. It’s Steve Rogers versus J. Jonah Jameson. Or something.

Simmons can at least hold the accent.

He doesn’t want to give Cap—sorry, Evans—a sample because Evans was a crappy son to him. Just because your dad rapes and kills a teenage girl doesn’t mean he’s not your dad. I wonder if it was a more complex equation in the source novel or was it really just, White guy blanks in face of the “is murderer dad different from murderer son” question. Or is Mark Bomback’s script so vapid he doesn’t get it.

Doesn’t matter.

So Evans doesn’t want to be friends and Simmons tells him no DNA sample. Instead, Evans is left confronting fourteen year old witnesses without notifying their parents, including sabotaging one car so he can confront one of Martell’s friends. Turns out Martell is into murder porn or something.

At least this time when Evans doesn’t let anyone know about that information, they flash forward to the grand jury for Pablo Schreiber to point out it was a really bad move on Evans’s part. Evans even acknowledges it for a second.

But then Evans also confronts Martell’s now only friend, Jordan Alexa Davis, who was a history with the victim Martell doesn’t know about. And when Martell finds out, he’s a complete dick to Davis, which means even if Martell is innocent, he’s a shitty proto-incel.

Proto because “Defending Jacob”’s sense of technology—as it streams from the largest tech company in the world’s service—is from the early aughts at best. Bomback’s bad at it, source author William Landay’s bad at it.

Michelle Dockery’s big moment this episode is running into victim’s mom Megan Byrne in the grocery store and Byrne spitting on her for buying marshmallows.

It’s amazing how much “Defending Jacob” is Dockery’s show but they force it be Evans’s. Given Evans is a producer and Dockery isn’t… it’s like she’s BBCing for hire in her own show. It kind of sucks.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e04 – Damage Control

The episode opens unironically with Michelle Dockery going to the grocery store before it opens at 6 a.m. and waiting to go in and be alone while shopping while Chris Evans does the same thing… only with the swimming pool.

Makes me wonder if the Dockery character is such a non-entity in the William Landay novel, in which case it does sound a little like an easy reader version of Presumed Innocent.

Anyway.

Dockery having a crap part is going to get indirectly spotlighted from the glare off Cherry Jones, playing tween murder suspect Jaeden Martell’s lawyer. And apparently, no, Evans didn’t see any conflict of interest in Jones having already represented town sexual predator guy Daniel Henshall.

It’s time for Jones to see how well Martell might do on the stand and he’s not going to do well. Martell’s petulant teen thing doesn’t come off well and Jones walks all over he, Evans, and Dockery in the scene. It’s okay, because Jones is the most life the show’s exhibited. But then it gets weird because Jones makes Evans better. He’s got rapport with her. He’s got no rapport with Dockery. Reminder: Mark Bomback’s script is really trite, so a lot of the problem is the script. And possibly the source novel.

Then it turns out to be kind of Michelle Dockery’s episode. Like she gets the subplot about stalking her former work gala, sending away from information about Evans’s murderer dad under a pseudonym (which is an absolutely pointless subplot and does lend credence to the idea Bomback just cut Dockery’s character out for the TV show because she doesn’t even get real C plots but less Bs), and then getting ambushed in a pseudo-Denny’s, which Dockery makes a big deal to say she likes actually, by reporter Audrey Wasilewski.

Now, Dockery might have been prepared to be on the lookout for Wasilewski, if only Evans had warned her, like Jones asked him.

Because “Defending Jacob” is about how Evans is a terrible partner and how it’s okay because it’s a White guy.

“Defending Jacob” would feel regressive in 1983.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e03 – Poker Faces

I am a fan of both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery. I’m not a fan of them together but, individually, I am a fan. Though, sadly—and “Defending Jacob” proves it—Evans is not working with the right directors in the right projects. He comes off in this thing like a not-fun period Dennis Quaid but still young when Evans was always good at being fun.

Anyway.

At one point in the episode, defense attorney Cherry Jones—Evans hired the lawyer defending his personal prime suspect (Daniel Henshall) because conflict of interest does not exist in “Jacob”—tells the couple they need to show no emotion.

Really.

Steve Rogers and Lady Mary need to not show emotion. Wonder if they can handle it.

The weird—and bad—thing is how Dockery should be able to handle it, but director Morten Tyldum directs them the same instead of for their specific kinds of stone face. It’s a missed opportunity and kind of where it’s super-obvious “Defending Jacob” is never going to get good.

There’s a big reveal from Evans about his family history in the episode, which they hide in various layers of flashback—first it’s in the present, with prosecuting attorney Pablo Schreiber questioning Evans about defense shrink Poorna Jagannathan, then we cut to Evans in the past telling Dockery he’s got to tell her a secret, then we jump ahead to the meeting with Jagannathan, then we keep jumping back and forth between the meeting and the reveal to Dockery.

And the big secret?

Evans’s dad is in prison for murder. What if it’s genetic predisposition! What if Steve Rogers’s bad genes made son Jaeden Martell a murderer!

Okay, so Defending Jacob: A Novel came out in 2012. Wasn’t genetic killer coding already out by then? Like, this premise sounds like a really boring TV version of Minority Report or something. But the show takes it seriously. Like, sure, science, schmience, let’s just make up nonsense.

Also dated is the homophobic bullying, especially in the way the show’s portraying it. But, also good to know the dead tween was a bigot.

We also find out when Evans says he’ll take care of things, he doesn’t and then Dockery has to do it in addition to making dinner or whatever, and, oh—turns out there were plenty of sociopath signals with Martell as a toddler and whatnot, the show just didn’t divulge because… it apparently makes the parents maybe covering a murder even more sympathetic? It’s unclear.

Also unclear is if the show’s aware its protagonists are like Nancy Myers protagonists with a murderer son (oh, who else saw or read Before and After). The show almost seems to be aware of they’re too absurdly WASP. Like Black lady cop Betty Gabriel tells Evans they aren’t real friends and she feels bad for him if he thinks they are because they’re not… they’re all like super fake. Is that intentional or Bomback’s writing? Gabriel telling Evans what’s up suggests the former, but everything else suggests the later. Always err on ineptness apparently.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e02 – Everything is Cool

About twenty minutes into this episode it felt really familiar then I realized I was just watching scenes from a bad Presumed Innocent remake. What with Chris Evans and his investigators and his coworkers and whatnot—it just feels like a retread of that film (and novel). I’ll bet source novel author William Landay read the Scott Turow novel.

“Defending Jacob” teleplay writer Mark Bomback? I feel like he maybe saw the movie.

The episode opens still in the flashback. Chris Evans has just discovered son Jaeden Martell’s classmates think he killed their other classmate and are posting about it online. He’s also found a knife in Martell’s bedroom.

So Evans lays awake all night and in the morning tells Michelle Dockery, who asks if he should let his boss know. You know, the district attorney (Sakina Jaffrey), who he promised he’d stay impartial with. He says, no. And then pretty soon destroys evidence, at which point I started to wonder if they realized Evans is the bad guy and basically “Defending Jacob” is basically a heroic version of Brock Turner’s parents.

Complete with Evans racing in his car from being suspended—not even for the evidence destruction but because there’s physical evidence Evans didn’t know about because he was doing such a bad job on the case because he’s apparently a bad prosecuting attorney (Turow deep cut)-racing home to get there before a search warrant can be executed.

The funny thing about Bomback’s abject lack of understanding about… well, anything really, is how the accusations of Martell didn’t go viral after being discovered online and sitting there for eighteen hours. Instead, the Internet just took a break for everyone to sleep and so on. It’s something.

Then there’s unregistered pedophile Daniel Henshall, who Evans brings in to question and the cops can’t break him before lawyer Cherry Jones shows up so they just let him go. Turns out he’s a good suspect because he’s got photos of the victim on his iPhone (does Apple know the pedophile’s rocking an Xs Max?) but they just let him go. Without even getting him to register.

So Bomback’s definitely bad at the plotting, but was Landay bad at it too? Because outside upper middle White people—if your D.A. is speeding through the streets in a badass Audi, maybe audit him—who don’t know their kids, I’m missing who this story would be compelling for? Like, was the novel supposed to be better than a John Grisham?

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e01

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.

Downton Abbey (2019, Michael Engler)

I’m trying to decide if Downton Abbey is wholly incomprehensible to someone who didn’t watch the television show, or if they’d appreciate it. Julian Fellowes’s screenplay is very tidy, no loose strings, always the right mix between A, B, and C plots, so one can at least appreciate the pacing without knowing exactly why it’s so especially funny when footman Kevin Doyle makes a fool of himself in front of the King and Queen, but one would still get the surface humor. Downton’s got a bunch of great surface humor, including Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, which is a rather impressive feat for Fellowes, Smith, Wilton, and director Engler because the film doesn’t do any setup. There’s not just very little ground situation establishing going on, there’s none. The movie opens with the hook—the King and Queen send a letter to Downton Abbey, let’s watch the letter get there via 1920s transportation, oh, how lovely and quaint, thanks to Ben Smithard’s gorgeous photography (they go Panavision for the movie, which is full of lingering shots on the country house itself, also showing off the increased helicopter budget)—plus the letter getting to the town and the familiar sights before the house itself. Maybe, with the quaintness, the lovely photography, and John Lunn’s always very effective theme… an unfamiliar could get in the right mood.

Because while it’s impressive how successfully Fellowes writes the almost two hours, with the fifteen or twenty person principal cast, it’s not a surprise he’d accomplish it. Fellowes wrote many years of the show, including some extended length holiday specials. Downton Abbey: The Movie feels very much like a very special holiday episode. There’s not a lot of progress from when the show ended, at least not in terms of new cast. There aren’t any new regulars, there are a lot of previously emphasized, sort of unresolved subplots examined—Sophie McShera still hasn’t decided if she’s getting married, Robert James-Collier’s still miserable in the closet, and… um. Okay, maybe there’s not a lot on that front. But James-Collier gets one of the bigger B plots, and McShera’s got a solid C. The only reason James-Collier’s subplot, involving actual romance for him, isn’t an A plot is Fellowes keeps it on low until the third act when he needs some drama to juxtapose with the chaos at the royal dinner. It’s a very smart script, just self-indulgent enough, just pleasant enough.

Is it particularly ambitious? No. The biggest A plot—besides everyone in the movie preparing for the royal visit in one way or another—is Allen Leech. Leech gets to do the “Irishman under investigation” subplot and he gets to do a “maybe the widower finally move on” subplot. Laura Carmichael gets a solid B plot. Michelle Dockery, however, is seated at the “here to support other people’s plots with none of my own” table, along with Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern. There are good moments for everyone and all the acting is good, they just don’t get anything special to do. No heavy lifting.

Though Dockery does get a little at the end, as she’s the one who gets to have the big moment with Maggie Smith. In its last few minutes, Downton: The Movie unintentionally reveals its great potential would not have been as an extended, Cinemascope holiday special, but as something from Smith’s perspective. The ambition isn’t there though. The film’s got just the right amount of fan service as well as new material.

Technically the only complaint is, occasionally, Engler chooses the wrong character to—literally—focus on in a shot. It’s like he doesn’t have the right sense of some scenes’ emotionality. And, of course, it’s over too soon. It’s not too short. But it is over too soon.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Engler; written by Julian Fellowes; director of photography, Ben Smithard; edited by Mark Day; music by John Lunn; production designer, Donal Woods; produced by Fellowes, Gareth Neame, and Liz Trubridge; released by Focus Features.

Starring Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Talbot), Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley), Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham), Penelope Wilton (Isobel Merton), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Robert James-Collier (Thomas Barrow), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason), Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), Michael Fox (Andy Parker), Raquel Cassidy (Miss Baxter), Kevin Doyle (Mr. Molesley), Harry Hadden-Paton (Bertie Hexham), Imelda Staunton (Maud Bagshaw), Tuppence Middleton (Lucy Smith), Kate Phillips (Princess Mary), Geraldine James (Queen Mary), Simon Jones (King George V), Max Brown (Richard Ellis), Stephen Campbell Moore (Captain Chetwode), Susan Lynch (Miss Lawton), David Haig (Mr. Wilson), Mark Addy (Mr. Bakewell), Philippe Spall (Monsieur Courbet), and Richenda Carey (Mrs. Webb).


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