By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 21, 2023 |
By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 21, 2023 |
The first season of Showtime’s Your Honor, which completed its run two years ago, did not get a lot of attention from critics or even social media, but it was a huge hit for Showtime, bringing in record ratings. Record ratings, of course, often mean extending a “limited series” another season or two, although Showtime ultimately both renewed and ended Your Honor simultaneously, announcing that it would return for a second and final season.
We’re midway through the second season of the series, and like much of the opening season, it’s both entertaining and also very bad television. The phenomenal cast — Bryan Cranston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Hope Davis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Margo Martindale — give the illusion that Your Honor is great tv, but it’s a bit like serving a cheeseburger and fries on fine china (or in the White House): It looks good, and it even tastes OK, but it’s all cholesterol and regret.
The first season at least had the framework of an Israeli series from which to work, but even it began jumping the track midway through. It works from a compelling premise, however: Adam, the son of a prominent judge, Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston), is involved in a hit-and-run in which he accidentally kills the son of Jimmy Baxter (Stuhlbarg), the ruthless boss of an organized crime family. In order to protect his son from certain death, Michael tries to cover up the crime and, in doing so, implicates the member of a criminal gang.
Basically, the once ethical, liberal do-gooder judge inadvertently starts a war between the mafia and a gang in New Orleans in order to protect his son. Spoilers: Michael has to cover up lies with more lies until he’s implicated his best friend, the mayor (Whitlock Jr., in the crime and has to fix a murder trial to spare a Baxter kid a conviction. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because karma is a bitch: Michael spends all season trying to protect his son from the Baxter family only to witness him being inadvertently shot and killed by the little brother of a gang member. The little brother is trying to kill another son of Jimmy Baxter, but inadvertently kills Adam. It is absurdly full circle. The whole season had a certain Kurt Sutter version of Shakespeare quality about it: There was a lot of gravitas but also a lot of blunt but messy scenery chewing.
The ratings success of the limited series, however, meant extending a story with a natural stopping point. Your Honor was about a judge trying to protect his son. He failed. His son died. Where could season two possibly go?
Nowhere good, as it turns out. We learn that, after Adam dies in the first season, Michael is so overwhelmed with grief that he confesses to fixing the trial. He is sentenced to prison, where he grows a long, unruly beard that is a distraction for much of the first half of the season. Michael mostly just wants to die at this point. He has nothing left to live for. His son is dead. His wife is dead.
Rosie Perez comes in as an assistant DA and gives him a deal. Though he’s no longer a judge, Michael is asked to inform on the Baxter family, and guess what? He has an in: Adam was sleeping with Jimmy Baxter’s daughter before he was killed. Jimmy Baxter and Michael, therefore, are grandparents to the same child. If that’s not preposterous enough, there’s a land deal involved to ensnare the mayor (there’s always a land deal involved) and Big Mo, the leader of the gang who now wants to own her own nightclub on the same land that Jimmy Baxter wants to develop. Jimmy Baxter’s father-in-law (played by Mark Margolis, aka Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad) is also breaking Jimmy’s balls because he’s not nearly the drug kingpin that he was, and somehow, the piers — and the shipments that come through them — become the focus. Meanwhile, for some cockamamie reason, midway through the second season, the dormant mystery behind the murder of Michael’s wife suddenly surfaces. Her random killing, which preceded the first season, wasn’t so random, after all, and the series spends a brief period hinting that Michael might be behind his wife’s death because she was cheating on him.
It’s messy, all over the place, and creator Peter Moffat throws the whole kitchen sink at the screen. It’s also impossible to resist given the amount of talent involved. Cranston is Cranston, Stuhlbarg devours the scenery, Hope Davis goes full Lady Macbeth, Hector Salamanca basically plays a retired Gus Fring, character actress Margo Martindale suffers no fools, and Andrene Ward-Hammond seems like she can take all of them. I enjoy it for what it is and I’m invested enough to ride it out to the end. To be honest, however: If I’d known what it would become, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. At the very least, I wouldn’t have bothered with the second season. It’s not great television, but it’s rare to have this much talent involved in one show. Mediocre as it is, I’m not going to let their work go to waste.