Defending Jacob review: Chris Evans anchors Apple’s moody thriller

Photo: Defending Jacob Season 1 - Courtesy of Apple TV+
Photo: Defending Jacob Season 1 - Courtesy of Apple TV+ /

Defending Jacob features solid performances by Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, but the Apple TV+ crime drama is too moody for its own good.

The viewer expects a certain amount of brooding in Defending Jacob, the latest Apple TV+ crime drama. After all, the premise is finding out your child could be a murderer. But there’s too much angst and not enough pace in the limited series.

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains details from the first episode of Defending Jacob, now streaming on Apple TV+. You can watch the episode for free now using the Apple TV app or with a 7-day free trial here.

The series has a lot going for it; the cast is impressive, led by Chris Evans (Avengers: Endgame) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey). And it’s based on a generally well-reviewed novel. But none of that potential completely makes it to the screen, as the pilot stews in its melodrama.

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Atmosphere can set a tone for any TV crime drama; just look at how well British series use it to their advantage. But this show overdoes it—from the overly dark shots of the Massachusetts area, to the ominous score that hammers home each dramatic point, to the numerous shots of characters looking troubled. It doesn’t create a world; instead, it hammers us over the head with it.

Mark Bomback (Deception, The Art of Racing in the Rain) moves the story along at a slow pace, showing the audience every step of the plot including what led up to the discovery of the murder victim; the script doesn’t even get to the reveal that the audience knows is coming until the final scene of the pilot. Between that and the time spent angsting, there’s just not enough that legitimately grabs the attention of the viewer.

Evans does his best as Andy Barber, an Assistant District Attorney who might be great at his job, but we don’t know because we don’t see much of him in the courtroom. By the time that his rival Neal (a scene-stealing Pablo Schreiber) is swooping in to potentially take him off the case, it’s hard to have an opinion one way or the other.

And for someone who’s at least an experienced prosecutor, he makes one massive mistake in the last scene that will have savvy crime drama fans cringing.

What we do know is that Andy and his wife Laurie (Dockery) have a loving marriage, that they care about their son Jacob (Jaeden Martell, not given much initially other than to be a typical teenager), and that they’re liked around their community. Everything seems fine for them. But that’s the rub; Defending Jacob never gets past being “fine.”

Nothing gets us emotional, nothing shocks us, nothing has us on the edge of our seats. It’s an okay watch if you’re an Evans or Dockery fan, or want to see Evans as something other than a Marvel superhero. But the ponderous pace that may have worked well in the source novel isn’t what works in TV, where we need to be grabbed and need to feel something.

If you’re looking for a character-driven crime thriller, try Line of Duty or Absentia instead.

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Defending Jacob is now available exclusively on Apple TV+.