‘Your Honor’ reviews: A ‘never less than watchable’ Bryan Cranston leads an ‘oppressively grim’ miniseries

After a seven-year absence from a series-lead role, Bryan Cranston returns to TV in the new Showtime miniseries “Your Honor,” which begins its 10-episode run on Sunday, Dec. 6. Based on the Israeli series “Kvodo,” “Your Honor” boasts a creative team of writer Peter Moffat — he penned the British series “Criminal Justice” that inspired HBO’s “The Night Of” — director Edward Berger, and executive producers Michelle King and Robert King.

Cranston plays widowed New Orleans judge Michael Desiato, who unexpectedly compromises his ethics to protect his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) after he accidentally kills the son of a local crime family in a hit-and-run. Fearful of the deceased’s parents Jimmy (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Gina’s (Hope Davis) wrath, Michael turns to friends and acquaintances in law enforcement and politics, like Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Charlie, to help clean up Adam’s mess, inflicting much seen and unseen harm in his wake.

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Critics received four episodes for review and, as of this writing, the notices for “Your Honor” seem as bleak as Michael Desiato’s situation. “Your Honor” has thus far earned a 55 on Metacritic based on 13 reviews, which indicates mixed or average reception, and just 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, though that score reflects just six write-ups.

While this reception might put a damper on the show’s awards prospects at the upcoming Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and beyond, its talent in front of and behind the camera should not be underestimated. Director Berger is a 2018 Emmy nominee in the Best Limited Series category for “Patrick Melrose;” Moffat, a 2017 Writers Guild Award nominee for “The Night Of”; and the Kings have four Emmy nominations apiece, two of those for writing.

Cranston has received good notices for his turn as Michael, which The Hollywood Reporter describes as one with “rapidly accelerating intensity that is never less than watchable.” Aside from Cranston, who already has six Emmys, five SAG Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar nomination, the impressive ensemble includes a lineup of familiar actors with equally impressive awards histories, including Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Stuhlbarg, two-time Globe and two-time Emmy nominee Davis, and SAG nominee Amy Landecker. Three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale and SAG winner Lorraine Toussaint both make guest appearances too.

See excerpts from some of the critics reviews below, and join the discussion on “Your Honor” with industry insiders in our notorious forums.

Alan Sepinwall (Rolling Stone): “‘Your Honor’ unfortunately peaks with the crash sequence. Everything after that feels oppressively grim, and borrowed from a half-dozen other series. … The story already feels tired at the end of the fourth episode, making the prospect of it having to fill 10 total episodes seem especially daunting, regardless of how good the ensemble is.”

Caroline Framke (Variety): “But as ‘Your Honor’ sprawls further out and into the lives of its many characters, it gets lost in the weeds of its storytelling… That the show works so hard to include as much story as possible speaks to its overarching ambition. Through its complex web of characters, it explores the politics of race, policing and privilege that define New Orleans.”

James Poniewozik (New York Times): “The result is an out-of-whack ratio of acting talent to material. … It all feels like an effort, through casting, to resuscitate characters that the scripts never breathed life into, a kind of dramatic CPR.”

Dan Fienberg (Hollywood Reporter): “With a sterling cast and a fairly propulsive narrative, ‘Your Honor’ has enough strong elements to keep you watching and engaged, even as nearly every beat feels like something you’ve watched in a half-dozen previous shows. … Moffat’s scripts and the direction by Edward Berger, making good use of New Orleans locations, are busy enough and the ensemble stacked enough that I suppose your annoyance at the level of overall familiarity may stop short of contempt.”

Whitney Friedlander (Paste): “But where ‘Your Honor’ really falters is its depiction of privilege. … Now, in 2020, would be a great time to have a conversation about how the rules change and how the story looks different when you put a white boy with no rap sheet behind the wheel versus a Black one with a gang tattoo. Unfortunately, from the episodes available so far, ‘Your Honor’ doesn’t quite get there.”

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