Pros: The atmosphere of uncertainty remains until the very end; good acting by Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell and J.K. Simmons; difficult moral questions that the series raises Cons: There are a lot of questions about the series from the point of view of criminology and jurisprudence; low pace of the story; open ending Defending Jacob / “Defending Jacob”
Genre crime drama
Creator Mark Bomback
Cast: Chris Evans (Andy Barber), Michelle Dockery (Laurie Barber), Jaeden Martell (Jacob Barber), J.K. Simmons (Billy Barber), Cherry Jones (Joanna Klein), Pablo Schreiber (Neil Logiudice), Betty Gabriel ( Paula Duffy), Poorna Jagannathan (Dr. Elizabeth Vogel), Sakina Jaffrey (Lynn Kenavan), etc.
Apple TV+ channel
Year of release 2020
The Defending Jacob miniseries is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay. At the center of this story is the Barber family, whose head, Andy Barber, works as an assistant district attorney and, together with the police, is investigating a high-profile murder that has rocked the quiet town of Newton, near Boston. Schoolboy Ben Rifkin, a classmate of Andy’s son, Jacob Barber, is killed, and very quickly it is Jacob who becomes the main suspect. A criminal investigation turns the Barbers’ lives upside down and brings to light several secrets that others had no idea about.
Despite the fact that Defending Jacob’s plot revolves around a murder, and almost the entire series is a trial during which Andy Barber recalls the events of the past months, the show’s crime drama raises a lot of questions. A self-respecting prosecutor would never take on a case in which there is not a single direct piece of evidence, and the number of procedural errors made during the investigation would allow any competent lawyer to literally defeat the prosecution line. Not to mention, there are a lot of questions for forensic experts, who seem to have been unable to determine either the direction or force of the blows that killed the victim, or to distinguish suicide from murder in another case related to this case. Honestly, it’s very strange to see such blatant mistakes in a crime drama.
On the other hand, only such simplifications allow the series to carefully study the theme that is the main one here – the theme of trust of family members in each other and the influence of maddening uncertainty on the relationship between family members. It is not so important whether Jacob Barber is actually guilty of murder or not, what is more important is how Andy and Laurie Barber will endure all the adversities that accompany the trial, whether they will continue to believe their son and whether they will be able to maintain their sanity. Defending Jacob is actually not a crime drama, but a family drama, and it is in this aspect that it is good.
If after Knives Out you had any doubts about the acting talent of Chris “Captain America” Evans (after all, he did not have the main role in Rian Johnson’s crime comedy), then working in Defending Jacob will convince you that Evans is a really good actor , and will live quietly without the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although his Jacob Barber is convinced from the first to the last minute of his son’s innocence and unconditionally believes him, a shadow of doubt is sometimes visible in the actor’s gaze and facial expressions. Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey, The Gentlemen) also played a difficult role. Her Laurie Barber is torn between love for her son and fear that he might turn out to be a ruthless killer who is a master at lying to his parents. The uncertainty and changing circumstances of life due to the trial are driving Laurie crazy, and Michelle Dockery does a very good job of showing this slow descent into madness.
Of course, it is worth mentioning the performer of the role of Jacob, seventeen-year-old actor Jaeden Martell, who may be familiar to you from the above-mentioned Knives Out and the film adaptations of King It and It: Chapter Two, in which he played Bill Denbrough. Jayden played the role of Jacob in such a way that at some moments you will be absolutely sure that this is just a stupid but completely innocent teenager, while at others you will suspect that he is a skilled liar who is leading his parents and the police by the nose. And, of course, J.K. Simmons. This magnificent actor has a small but very important role for the plot, which he did well. Who would doubt that.
All episodes of Defending Jacob were directed by Morten Tyldum. From his previous works, you probably know such films as The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Recently, Tyldum has been working in the television format, participating as a director and producer in the creation of such series as Counterpart (that’s where J.K. Simmons comes from!) and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Well, Defending Jacob is definitely one of Tyldum’s most leisurely and drawn-out works. Yes, we understand that such a pace is necessary here to build up psychological tension, to demonstrate the pressure on the Barber family, but honestly, sometimes you just want to rush the director, the series becomes so viscous at some moments. Honestly, Defending Jacob could easily have been cut in half, from eight episodes to four.
As I wrote above, Defending Jacob is good as a family drama. It can be useful both to parents, many of whom mistakenly believe that they know their children well, and to children, who sometimes simply do not understand that many of their innocent actions and jokes can, under certain conditions, have completely innocent consequences. In addition, it would not be amiss to remind teenagers that everything said jokingly on the Internet does not disappear in its abyss; if necessary, all the nonsense that they managed to leave on social networks can surface to the surface and hit their reputation very hard.
Although Defending Jacob is billed as a miniseries, the creators, unlike the author of the original novel, decided to make the ending open-ended. This move allowed us to maintain the intrigue until the very end and even leaves room for a sequel, but we would still like to know who killed Ben Rifkin. And yes, we hope Apple doesn’t decide to continue.
Defending Jacob is less a crime drama than a family drama, and in this vein it turns out to be very good