Chris Evans’s splashy new TV series

 

From the outside, the Barbers seem like a blessed family.

Dad Andy is a successful prosecutor, mum Laurie works with traumatised kids and son Jacob, 14, attends the local middle school in an upper-middle class Boston community where we're told every second parent is a lawyer.

The have a tastefully furnished colonial house with a red door and a large kitchen island and the parents drive an Audi and a Range Rover - which seems a little out of the price range of a prosecutor and a charity worker, but maybe there's family money somewhere in there.

In that time-honoured TV tradition, this all-American family's lives are unexpectedly up-ended when a tragedy strikes. One of Jacob's classmates is found stabbed to death in the nearby woods, and Jacob becomes the prime suspect.

As far as TV dramas go, the story is pretty standard, which means Defending Jacob, a splashy new miniseries from Apple TV+, has to bring something else to the table.

That X factor is its stars: Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, internationally famous for their most iconic roles as Captain America and Downton Abbey's Lady Mary Crawley. They play the impossibly beautiful suburban parents of Jacob, portrayed by Jaeden Martell, Evans' co-star from Knives Out.

 

From picture perfect ...
From picture perfect ...

 

to family in turmoil
to family in turmoil

 

There are also some great supporting cast with the likes of Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black), Betty Gabriel (Get Out), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards), Leighton Meester, J.K. Simmons and Australian actor Daniel Henshall (Bloom).

Then you throw in Morten Tyldum, the Oscar-nominated director of The Imitation Game, to helm all eight episodes with a moody style, creating a suspenseful and repressive atmosphere, and you start to get something resembling prestige TV.

And it mostly works - the swirl of those shiny ingredients elevates an otherwise humdrum story.

Adapted by Mark Bomback (Outlaw King, The Wolverine) from a best-selling novel by William Landay, Defending Jacob benefits from its source material's author, whose own experience as a prosecutor in the same Massachusetts county lends the series a level of detail of the machinery of investigation.

It's an interesting insight into how someone so embedded within that system will be forced to use their knowledge to protect someone in their family.

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Defending Jacob is only available on Apple’s streaming platform
Defending Jacob is only available on Apple’s streaming platform

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The story may be propelled by the mystery of the crime, but the heart of it is the deterioration and mental anguish of this family who appeared to have it all, but as with all suburban facades, scratch beneath the surface and there's always something else lurking.

Here, it's Andy's family history of violence, and whether that's now a genetic trap passed on to his child.

Perhaps it's the very nature of its familiarity, beats that we recognise and can tick off along the way, that lends Defending Jacob a compelling reason to keep watching. That and all those famous faces.

The performances are really solid, and Evans brings with him an earnestness and sincerity (built over years of playing Captain America) that makes him easy to root for - which, in turn, makes you want to wait it out and see if he gets his happy ending.

Tyldum also manages to give the show an expensive look - that Apple money probably had a lot to do with it - which is very easy on the eye while all those cool blues and spindly, barren trees of the Massachusetts winter casting a foreboding pall over everything.

It may be a slow burn but there are reasons enough to keep going.

Defending Jacob premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, April 24 with the first three episodes, new episodes will subsequently be released on Fridays

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Originally published as Chris Evans's splashy new TV series



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