At the beating heart of the AppleTV+ miniseries “Defending Jacob” is a parent’s worst nightmare. Namely that their rather socially awkward 14-year-old son they raised with love, care and devotion could be capable of something as unthinkable as stabbing a bullying classmate to death in broad daylight.
As his parents Andy and Laurie, Chris Evans is an assistant district attorney in a tight-knit New England community and Michelle Dockery is a teacher. They are both allowed to considerable step out of their most familiar roles, Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as Lady Mary of “Downton Abbey” fame, and get a chance to be everyday people trying to comprehend whether their child could be a murderer.
But while both actors do a reasonable job of expressing all the emotions that someone in their position would express to protect their child and then some, I was more drawn to two secondary players, both of whom have a knack of stealing the show. That would be the always terrific Cherry Jones as earthy defense attorney Joanna Klein, whose confident smile somehow can make seemingly bad news seem upbeat as she breaks through to the rather aloof Jacob (Jaeden Martell).
Then there is J.K. Simmons as Andy’s estranged father known as “Bloody Billy Barber,” who is serving time in prison after raping and murdering a community college student and leaving her body in an empty boarding house. Neither Laurie nor Jacob previously knew of his existence thanks to Andy’s erasure of his dad from his life.
But Simmons is there basically to add the notion that his grandson might have inherited the so-called “murder gene.” He also is extremely protective of his kin and is able to pull more than a few strings even behind bars, which considerably ups the tension factor of this whodunnit. A scene where he bashes a telephone receiver against a wall in a rage and sets off a raucous uproar among his fellow inmates will give you chills.
A “Rolling Stone” review of this AppleTV+ series delivers high praise for both these supporting players. As critic David Fear says of Jones, “It takes a while to get to the proper courtroom drama, which does deliver theater legend Cherry Jones channeling Atticus Finch.” As for Simmons, he suggests the Oscar winner for his turn as a sadistic music teacher in “Whiplash” “improves every scene he’s in by half.”
Jones won a guest actress Emmy for her role as Holly Maddox,, an outspoken feminist and mother of the main protagonist June, played by Elisabeth Moss, on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She also won an Emmy as a supporting actress in a drama series as President Allison Taylor on “24.” She is especially acclaimed for her stage work, winning a Tony twice for the 1995 revival of “The Heiress” and the 2005 original production of “Doubt.”
Simmons has a long list of TV roles, including 45 episodes of NBC’s “Law & Order,” as the bone-chilling white supremacist Vernon Shillinger for six seasons on HBO’s prison drama”Oz,” and an array of voice work including 13 episodes of Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” as tortoise Lenny Turteltaub. “Defending Jacob” could lead to a well-deserved supporting Emmy nomination for both Jones and Simmons.
Will Simmons score a Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actor nomination? Could Jones win a third Emmy for Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress if she gets nominated? Make your Emmy predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until the nominations announcement on July 28. And join in the fun debate over the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums.