* Editor’s note: This story contains mild spoilers*
We have known Chris Evans as the star-spangled man with a plan – Captain America – for most of our lives. But let me now introduce him as assistant district attorney Andy Barber. The lawyer from Massachusetts, who is a total family man (special shoutout to Chris Evans’ beard – it’s truly magnificent). He has a beautiful wife in Michelle Dockery and a teenage son, Jacob, who seems like an ordinary kid. He does all his homework, stops playing video games when you ask him to and seems like an all-around nice guy. They’re the kind of family that would follow all the rules during a global pandemic and the type that everyone loves. This normal, lovely suburban family’s life changes when Jacob is accused of murdering his classmate. You know, casual stuff.
Based on a book William Landay’s novel of the same name, Defending Jacob opens with a montage of Chris Evans’ back as he faces indictment by a grand jury.
“I believe in the system,” he insists. “I just want the truth to come out.”
When police arrest Jacob for murdering his classmate Ben Rifkin, the Barber family’s life changes.
What begins as apparent mudslinging on social media – “Everyone knows you did it,” and “You have a knife, I’ve seen it” – transforms into something entirely different when they discovered Jacob’s fingerprint on the label of Ben’s sweatshirt when he was killed.
Andy discovers the knife when he goes snooping around Jacob’s room. When confronted by his parents, Jacob says he bought the knife just because – to be cool. He says he bought it with his own money as if somehow that makes it okay. His parents, although disappointed, never suspect him for murder. Because well, he’s their kid, and they would like to think they never raised him to be a murderer.
But Andy disposes off the knife, which could make him complicit to the murder if that was indeed the knife that killed Ben Rifkin. Questions of the son’s guilt and the father’s complicity thicken the dramatic stew nicely. Andy’s troubled childhood and the floating anxiety about the sins of the one being visited on the other gives it a nice twist.
Defending Jacob is a detailed, intimate portrayal of a family under pressure.
There are points where the script needs just a little more seasoning. But overall, it is very gripping, even though there are currently only three episodes out. What helps Defending Jacob out is it’s detailed, intimate portrayal of a family under pressure. The parents become pariahs in the town and doubts about Jacob’s innocence erode their resilience from within. Dockery brings out Laurie’s inherent brittleness as she wrestles with potential outcomes. She realises that the supposedly unconditional love of a mother for her child is being put to a test.
The series also wonderfully captures the pain, the emotions and the impact an event of this scale has on each member of the family. Jaeden Martell is so good as Jacob as he treads the fine line between the ordinary teenage reserve and possibly sociopathic detachment. You have absolutely no way of telling where the plot would go or whether he is a killer or not. He does his job so well; you can never be absolutely sure whether the kid did it or not.
This is only the beginning, and it is already so suspenseful and thrilling.
Another thing that deserves credit is Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery’s acting. Evans is so good in this series as a hotshot lawyer/suburban dad, and is exceptionally expressive, especially with his eyes. And Dockery just perfectly compliments him with her resilient and strong mother counterpart, who breaks down crying alone in the bathroom when the scrutiny gets too much handle. The way the show treats the legal and investigative processes – and the reliance on the so-called “murder gene” – also avoids eye-rolling ridiculousness.
All in all, this series, even though it’s only three episodes into the eight-part miniseries, is as gripping as a crime drama thriller could be. It has its shallow points, but we are yet to discover more as the story unfolds more on Apple TV+ each week. This is only the beginning, and it is already so suspenseful and thrilling. There is a plethora of what is going to be gritty, grim and emotionally overwhelming content that we are still yet to see. And I cannot wait to see what magic this stellar cast is going to bring to the small screen every week. If crime dramas with a strong cast, nerve-wracking episodes and strong emotional context are your calling, Defending Jacob is worth a watch.
You can catch the first three episodes – and subsequent episodes – of Defending Jacob on Apple TV+
Featured image: IMDb