Reasonable Doubt

4 out of 5

Created by: Raamla Mohamed

covers season 1

The promotion of Reasonable Doubt mentioning that it’s from a writer on Scandal – and that Scandal was a Shondaverse hit – seems like all you need to know as things kick off with a How To Get Away With Murder-style hook, then rewinds us to takes-no-shit criminal lawyer Jax’s (Emayatzy Corinealdi) involvement with a new case: rich nice guy Brayden Miller (Sean Patrick Thomas) has been accused of murdering his mistress. While Jax isn’t necessarily above defending the bad guy, a moral code – that we’ll come to question, Shoda Rhimes style – has her only accepting the case after solidifying her belief in Miller’s innosence. But what was that opening scene, in which Jax is being held hostage at gunpoint by some rather angry fellow – might this be Miller? Or perhaps it’s the husband she’s on the perpetual outs with, Lewis (McKinley Freeman), with whom she cycles between hot sex, flashes of emotional openness, sudden fights, and then, uh, letting herself be filmed in their home having relations with other fellas. So maybe it’s Lewis? Maybe it’s one of these other fellas? Or maybe it’s Damon Cooke, an early defendant of Jax’s whom she failed – turning her to the dark side of working with money-grubbing firms – and who’s just been released, looking to rekindle flirtations he’d had with Jax however many years ago.

So lotsa who-mighta-dunnits, mixed with the did-he-do-its of Miller’s case, unfolding over the course of the season, mixed with a lot of sexy sex. Preeetty Rhimes-y. Which I’m not against, as I’ve enjoyed a handful of the producer’s shows, but they normally sneak their depth inbetween pounds and pounds of popcorn. (And sex.) Reasonable Doubt flips that script, though, giving us the tricksy plot twists and cliffhangers (and sex), but surrounding that with impressively realistic, patient studies of sexuality, and gender, and class, and friendship, and marriage, and family, and… that’s a lot. It gets messy. Which, at first, is part of the show’s bravado, and has Jax putting her tough lady stamp on everything, while letting the erotica play out and having friends and lovers throw shade at each behind backs and etc. But Reasonable Doubt allows these things to get messy in a much more real world fashion, and doesn’t try to solve them. This is combined with an appreciated lack of judgment, beyond the call: while Shondaverse stuff is always pretty sex positive, we don’t necessarily swerve out of our way to make that a point; Jax is allowed to enjoy herself, and some people understand it, and some people don’t; people get hurt directly or indirectly by all that shade, and maybe they confront it successfully, or maybe not. There’s not much “winning” in this show – the title checks out – and that aspect is allowed to grow more and more the deeper we get in.

But that opening hook has to be dealt with, and we still have our twisty-turns, and though it leads to satisfying places, the inevitable reliance on that stuff definitely undermines the more powerful drama; there’s a sense that there’s a much stronger blend of thriller and drama without trying to “keep us guessing” with that initial flashforward. Thankfully, the drama is brilliantly served by Corinealdi throughout, juggling her character’s strengths and fragilities believably, and Freeman and Ealy are solid supporters, though they have to play more pigeonholed types at points, in order to keep the plot moving; these performances help to ground some of the circus antics, keeping us intrigued to find out if the show has more to offer, and it does.

While that offering is, as mentioned, quite a bit, and it’s definitely a fair criticism to say that not a lot of it is fully dealt with, I appreciate that as part of the more realistic approach to some very complex matters, and it’s kind of a nice way to balance out the Scandal-esque fireworks – the clutter of Jax’s day-to-day has the glitter of fireworks initially, and then as things go along, we come to understand that she’s just as unsure of herself and hobbling through her days as the rest of us. It’s a unique – and worthwhile – show that doesn’t try to over-glamorize or moralize that.