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Morten Tyldum
Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell
Writing Credits:
Mark Bomback

An assistant DA's world is shattered when his beloved son gets charged with murder.

Rated TV-MA.

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1/16X9
English Dolby 5.1
English Audio Description
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 403 min.
Price: $25.99
Release Date: 7/6/2021

• Deleted Scenes
• “Deconstructing Defending Jacob” Featurette
• “Crafting Character” Featurette


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Defending Jacob (2020)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2021)

Based on William Landay’s novel, 2020’s Defending Jacob brings us a “limited series” that originally ran on AppleTV+. As described on the packaging, the show “unfolds around a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town”.

This three-disc set includes all eight episodes of Defending. The plot synopses come from the series’ official website.

Pilot: “Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber (Chris Evans) is assigned as the lead prosecutor in the case of his son Jacob’s (Jaeden Martell) murdered classmate Ben Rifkin (Liam Kilbreth).”

Because Defending opens 10 months before the series’ main events, we know Andy doesn’t come through unscathed. Perhaps eventually I’ll think this acts as a good choice, but right now, it seems like a bad idea to foreshadow Andy’s eventual problems.

Otherwise, “Pilot” offers a perfectly solid opening episode. As expected, it offers the requisite plot and character exposition and checks off all the right boxes, so it launches the mystery in a fairly appealing manner.

Everything Is Cool: “When new evidence is discovered, Andy is taken off the case.”

Well, that didn’t take long! It never made much sense for Andy to get the case anyway, given that Jacob attended school with Ben. “Pilot” addressed this topic but it still felt off.

The events of “Cool” would demand this shift anyway, as Jacob becomes a prime suspect in the murder here. I do feel glad that Defending didn’t wait too long to implicate him. After all, the series’ title lets us know this will happen, so it doesn’t make sense to postpone that.

“Cool” moves along events, but it tends to feel a bit over the top, especially since it forces Andy to act like an idiot at times. Perhaps we could accept his behavior from a civilian, but it doesn’t make much sense for a seasoned attorney to act like such a dope.

Poker Faces: “Andy admits a family secret to Laurie (Michelle Dockery) before it becomes public.”

That secret feels like a curveball that makes little sense in the context of reality. Andy hid his past from everyone for decades and only reveals the truth when dramatically convenient?

Through three episodes, Defending tends to lean melodramatic, and “Faces” adds to that impression. The first few shows feel too much like “TV courtroom drama” without a lot of substance. Hopefully matters improve as the series progresses.

Damage Control: “Andy takes matters into his own hands. Laurie re-examines the life she knew.”

In an earlier episode, Defending telegraphed the possibility that pervy Leonard Parz (Daniel Henshall) might act as the murderer, and “Damage” pursues those leads – a bit. Most of “Damage” examines the personal fallout, and that becomes a decent subject, though not one that creates great intrigue. “Damage” gives us another spotty episode that leans a bit too much on soap opera.

Visitors: “Andy visits his father Billy (JK Simmons) and learns some troubling information from Jacob’s friends Derek (Ben Taylor) and Sarah (Jordan Alexa Davis).”

It’s always great to see Simmons, though Defending wastes him in a small role – or at least one that seems dinky as of now. It’s possible the show uses Simmons better down the road, though.

As of now, Simmons doesn’t get enough to do to add much spark to the proceedings. “Visitors” does dig more actively into the murder case, though, and that makes it a bit more interesting than most of its predecessors.

Wishful Thinking: “Andy and defense attorney Joanna Klein (Cherry Jones) explore last-ditch efforts to prove Jacob’s innocence.”

“Wishful” gives Simmons a little more to do, but still not quite enough to justify his presence. The episode comes with tonal leaps that don’t fit together especially well, as we go from investigation to thriller to melodrama in one less than concise package.

Job: “As the trial begins, Jacob’s fate hangs in the balance.”

As we near the series’ finale, we finally get to the courtroom, where the tension picks up to a substantial degree. “Job” tends to lean toward artificial theatrics, but it still becomes a largely interesting series of developments.

After: “The trial comes to an end, but with unexpected consequences.”

Though “Job” seemed to finish the suspense about the identity of the murderer, “After” demonstrates that the series won’t end on such a simple note. That actually disappoints, mainly because I thought “After” would offer an intriguing view of how people attempt to get back to normal following a major life event, but some revelations ensure that it becomes more about plot twists.

This means “After” finishes the season on a less engaging not than I’d like, though given the fact the first seven shows didn’t do a lot for me, this doesn’t become a surprise. “After” ties together matters in a moderately unsatisfying manner.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

Defending Jacob appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.00:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture never excelled, but it was acceptable for SD-DVD.

Sharpness was usually fine. Wider shots tended to be a bit soft, but those instances weren’t extreme, and much of the flick offered decent to good clarity.

Shimmering and jaggies were minor and edge haloes seemed non-problematic. Print flaws were non-existent, as I detected no specks, marks or other blemishes.

The film’s palette opted for a clear teal tint, with some amber as well. Within that design range, the colors seemed passable if bland.

Blacks tended to be somewhat inky, but shadows showed reasonable smoothness. Nothing here did much to impress, but this was a watchable presentation.

Don’t expect fireworks from the series’ Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, as we got a mix heavy on dialogue. Outside of a few scenes that featured environmental elements, speech dominated.

Effects remained minimal and didn’t add much to the production. Music worked better and used the speakers well.

Audio quality was positive. Speech seemed natural and concise, and the score demonstrated pretty good clarity.

Effects did little to tax my system but they were clear and accurate enough. Overall, this ended up as a passable mix.

Three episodes come with Deleted Scenes. We find these for “Pilot” (1 scene, 0:35), “Everything Is Cool” (1, 0:53), and “After” (2, 2:22).

None of these seem especially compelling, though some work better than others. From “After”, “Jacob Visits the Ice Cream Store” lets us follow up on Sarah, but that same episode’s “Walk to the Elevator” seems useless.

The other two clips have moderate merit. Nothing here really feels important, though.

Two featurettes appear, and Deconstructing Defending Jacob runs 12 minutes, 36 seconds. It brings notes from executive producers Adam Schulman and Rosalie Swedlin, author William Landay, writer Mark Bomback, director Morten Tyldum, and actors Chris Evans, Pablo Schreiber, Jaeden Martell, Michelle Dockery, Cherry Jones, Betty Gabriel and Sakina Jaffrey.

“Deconstructing” looks at the source novel and its adaptation, story/characters, Tyldum’s approach as director, sets and locations, cinematography, production and costume design. The featurette offers a decent number of good details, but it also leans toward praise a lot of the time.

Crafting Characters lasts 11 minutes, 55 seconds and involves Dockery, Landay, Evans, Bomback, Tyldum, Martell, Schulman, Jones, Swedlin, Schreiber and Gabriel.

This one discusses cast, characters and performances. It mixes insights with fluff.

Too melodramatic for my liking, Defending Jacob never develops into an especially engaging murder tale. It feels padded and unconvincing, without great logic or impact. The DVDs offer decent picture and audio as well as minor bonus materials. While not a bad series, Defending nonetheless disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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