Bryan Cranston Breaks Bad Again. and Its a Thrill to Watch.

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Skip Bolen/Showtime

In the new Showtime miniseries Your Honor, premiering Dec. 6, the Breaking Bad star plays a New Orleans judge frantically trying to cover up his sons bloody crime.

Nick Schager

Entertainment Critic

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In Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston embodied a seemingly honorable man who saw a criminal opportunity, took it, and then took to it. Your Honor, on the other hand, features the actor as an honorable man whos forced by circumstance to behave in a criminal manner, and discovers that hes quite good at italbeit not necessarily good enough to evade capture. For Cranston, its a chance to play a variation on the antihero role that brought him such acclaim (including four Best Actor Emmys), and if theres a single reason to watch this new 10-episode Showtime miniseries, its his galvanized performance as a father driven to bend the very rules he upholds in order to keep his loved ones, and himself, safe.

This is a daring gambit, given that Adam has left fingerprints and DNA all over the place, busted up his moms car, and been seen and videotaped at a gas station shortly after the accidentnot to mention that Michael put in initial calls to the police and to lawyer Lee Delamere (Carmen Ejogo), his former law clerk. Those are just a few of the initial threads with which Your Honor tangles up its protagonist, and theres a thrill to watching Cranston strive to resolve these dilemmas while stifling his conscience, maintaining a clear head, and keeping his shell-shocked son straight. You can see the gears whirring behind Cranstons outwardly innocent eyes, and the more his father tries to cover all his baseswhich multiply at a distressing ratethe more the actor reveals his characters formidable intelligence and shrewdness, as well as his fierce paternal protectiveness.

Its not long before Michael is asking his longtime friend, mayoral candidate Charlie (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), to get rid of the vehicle that killed Rocco. Its at that point that Your Honor gets truly complex, since Charlie uses his police and underworld connections to get Kofi Jones (Lamar Johnson), a young member of the Desire street gang, to steal Michaels car and make it disappeara ruse that doesnt work, and makes Kofi the prime suspect in Roccos murder, not to mention a victim of police brutality and an innocent kid in the crosshairs of the vengeful Baxters. Kofis plight weighs heavily upon both Michael and Adam, the latter of whom is involved in a secret romance with his teacher Frannie (Sofia Black-DElia), and can barely keep a lid on his misery, which he expresses at one point in an anguished dark-room dance to Joy Divisions Love Will Keep Us Apart.

By the end of its fourth episode (which is as far as this critic has seen), Margo Martindale has also leapt into the fray as Senator Elizabeth Guthrie, the mom of Cranstons wife, and her participation further turns Your Honor into a grand acting showcaseeven if the idea that the 69-year-old Martindale is the 64-year-old Cranstons mother-in-law is more than a bit absurd. Between the escalating power struggle between Stuhlbarg and Davis mobsters (whose reaction to their sons death is far from unified), and Michaels balancing- act relationships with Charlie, Detective Nancy Costello (Amy Landecker), and Leewith whom he begins an affairno one is left without some juicy material to handle, and the show is at its finest when allowing its stellar cast to simmer, stew, and boil over with fury and agony, both alone and in the presence of each other.

Your Honor stumbles slightly in trying to integrate criminal justice system racism and malfeasance into its primary narrative; while that critique is certainly relevant (and hits home during a bracing courtroom-humiliation incident), the show is so invested in its breathless melodramapropelled by crooked cops, shady politicians, ruthless organized criminals, gang leaders, and duplicitous judges and everyday citizensthat its institutional-prejudice elements sometimes come off as mere plot devices. Moreover, while Moffats scripting does a sharp job piling on developments and characters to complicate Michaels illicit mission, it too often relies on the frustrating foolishness of Adam, whose torment isnt enough to explain away all of the stupid things he does that risk outing him as the real culprit.

Whether these issues persist is anyones guess; even before reaching its midway point, Your Honor is so thoroughly knotted that it could resolve itself in a variety of different ways. What is clear, however, is that Cranston remains one of the mediums current giants, capable of imbuing even the clunkiest of moments with relatable remorse, wit, cunning, and desperation. He brings a gravity and charisma to Moffats miniseries thats as invaluable as it is magnetic.

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