Defending Jacob: Series Review

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t exactly dying to give Apple TV a go. With huge streaming services like Netflix available, the appeal of a streaming platform like Apple TV, which has significantly less content available to watch, was pretty much non-existent to me.

But when I saw the trailer for Defending Jacob, my mind quickly changed and I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I did.

Defending Jacob, based on the novel of the same name by William Landay, is a gritty crime-drama written by Mark Bomback (Planet of the Apes series) and directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game).  Chris Evans (known for playing Marvel’s Captain America) stars as Andy Barber, a district attorney and family man whose life gets turned upside down when his son, Jacob, is charged with the worst crime of all: first-degree murder.

Defending Jacob is certainly not your average crime-drama by today’s standards, with a focus on the Barber family and their downwards spiral into paranoia, anxiety, and depression as they navigate the world of trials and tackle the scorn of the public. Before long, it starts to feel as if the entire world is trying to take down the Barber family, including the Barber family themselves.

Bomback does an excellent job at visualising each scene, creating a dark, eerie sense of impending dread with each episode. It feels more like watching a beautifully crafted drama flick than a TV series, making those 50-60 minute episodes fly by.

However, you can’t give all the credit to the creators. Chris Evans is fantastic as a determined father struggling to find the truth behind his son’s allegations. Although I did find him to be a little annoying at times – fighting against everybody who so much as suggests his son might’ve done something wrong – Evans’ performance in the final few episodes turn this defensive, justice-seeking character into something truly human.

Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey), who plays mother and wife Laurie Barber, gives a truly compelling performance throughout. The rising distrust in her son, accompanied by the guilt and horror she feels at herself for slowly turning on one of her own, feels sensationally real throughout. It’s not until the very end that you realise just how much she’s changed over the course of the 8 episodes. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching Dockery put on a performance, it feels like you’re watching a real life mother struggle with her inner turmoil. It’s heart-wrenching, but it’s one of the most genuine TV performances I’ve seen in a long, long time.  

Jaeden Martell, known for his performance as Bill Denbrough in the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It, plays the accused murderer Jacob Barber, a normal young teen whose life has taken a turn for the worst. Martell was nothing short of perfect for this role. With his typical quiet disposition and young, baby-faced appearance, you can’t help but see him as an innocent child… and become unsettled when his true self starts to come out from hiding. With this performance, Martell truly cements himself as one of the best young actors today. It’s hard to play a character like this and not sway the audience completely one way or another, but Martel does the nearly impossible, leaving us on the edge of our seats with every moment.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to rave about this show, there was some moments that I wish they’d skipped over. The show seems to lead us off down some interesting paths, getting us invested in finding answers, only to abandon the thought altogether in later episodes. Evans’ character falls flat in some areas, coming off as more annoying than relatable, taking the turn that a strange amount of crime shows seem to follow with little success. The final episode has its own list of complaints, but I won’t spoil those here, and with an episode released each week, it isn’t exactly a binge-watchable. Personally, I don’t like this style of TV releases, especially when it’s being released on a streaming service – a service literally made for binge-watching. Saying that, the show is available as a complete series on Apple TV from June 30th in Australia.

Overall, with all its flaws in mind, I would still say its strengths absolutely outweigh its weaknesses and I would definitely recommend the show to anybody interested in crime dramas. With such a strong and dedicated cast, it’s a show you just can’t miss. Maybe there’s a reason to subscribe to Apple TV after all!

Stream all episodes of Defending Jacob now on Apple TV

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