Apple’s next big budget series comes in the form of Defending Jacob, an eight-part crime drama starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell. The new show, created and written by Mark Bomback, continues the streak of big named headliners fronting genre TV on the new streaming platform, as Evan’s returns to his bearded Cap days to lead the murder mystery.
Following the shocking death of student Ben Rifkin in the local woods, assistant district attorney and family man Andy Barber’s (Chris Evans) life is turned upside down as his 14-year-old son is arrested for the high profile murder of his classmate. But as new evidence is discovered and previous allegiances shift, can the family stick together and ultimately clear Jacob’s name?
Opening with Andy Barber testifying to a grand jury in a case, Defending Jacob is told through a series of flashbacks as the murder investigation unravels over multiple timelines. The slow burn drama drip feeds you evidence and clues sparingly throughout, hooking you in as doubts are cast and questions are raised over the innocence of Jacob. Beginning with Andy uncovering suspicions from his son’s classmates on social media, to discovering a suspicious knife hidden in Jacob’s drawers, to his fingerprints being found on the label of the sweatshirt Ben was wearing when he died. It doesn’t look good for the young kid.
With suspicions growing and allegiances shifting, cracks begin to show in the seemingly perfect family. Andy’s own troubled childhood resurfaces, as its revealed he’s been lying to his wife and son about his violent past. Initially playing out as a murder mystery, the series descends into a tense drama, looking at how the event slowly breaks the family apart, as they quickly (and shockingly) become the town pariahs. Encompassing multiple genre elements such as crime drama, courtroom and thriller, Defending Jacob also attempts to raise questions over violence and whether it repeats itself in an intriguing side plot, along with questioning whether you truly know those closest to you. It’s just a shame that it takes it’s time to really feel like it’s going anywhere.
Chris Evans is compelling as the assistant DA, who seems like he’ll go to any lengths to clear his son’s name and return to his perfect life. With a couple of quick flashbacks to his past, I’m intrigued to find out more about his father and what really happened there. He really was fantastic in Knives Out, and it’s great to see him flexing his drama muscles following his long stint as America’s Ass. Downtown Abbey’s Michelle Dockery is perfectly serviceable as the dutiful wife and mother figure, but honestly there’s not really much depth to Laurie. IT’s Jaeden Martell is so hard to read as the titular character, he seems like a decent kid, but why would he hide a knife in his drawer? Together, they seem like the perfect privileged suburban family, so it is interesting to see how they change throughout the trial. The dynamics appear to shift as pressures mount, leading us to question how far they’ll go to protect their son.
Defending Jacob is a slow burn crime drama featuring twists and turns which are gradually revealed throughout, I just wish they’d come around a little faster. In what’s supposed to be a murder mystery, comes across as more of a family melodrama. Thankfully the central performances of Evans and Martell, along with the tense courtroom scenes, make for a compelling, if somewhat sluggish, watch.