Created by David E. Kelley
Developed for Television by Ted Humphrey
Based on the The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
Release Date: 13th May 2022
You’re not going to get anything new with The Lincoln Lawyer, and you know what, that’s okay. There is something pleasingly entertaining about a courtroom procedural, going back to the days of Perry Mason, Steven Bochco’s underrated classic Murder One, Hollywood’s eagerness to adapt the works of John Grisham, and all the way to the works of David E. Kelley that dominated the television schedules during the late 90s and early 2000s.
It’s not really too much of a surprise to note that Kelley is involved in this latest attempt at adapting Michael Connelly’s best selling novels to the screen, and while he is responsible for writing the first episode, the show running duties are in the hands of Ted Humphrey.
The combination of Kelley and Humphrey almost makes this feel like the coming together two of television’s most prominent writers of law procedurals; Kelley cut his teeth on LA Law (another Bochco creation) before going off to create the triple whammy of The Practice, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, series that flitted between serious and whimsical, while Humphrey was one of the main writers on Michelle and Robert King’s The Good Wife.
You will be very much reminded of both The Good Wife and The Practice here; there are touches of humour, but this isn’t interested in the whimsy of Boston Legal, or the glossy romanticism of Ally McBeal. Instead, this boils down to be being an engrossing courtroom procedural and ends up engaging and entertaining the audience for ten solid episodes. It finds much drama and enjoyment in the dramatic lives of its characters and the battle ground that comes from the courtroom itself.
Best of all, this is a series being written by writers who understand how to make this type of television series work; there is none of the mentality that this is a ‘ten hour movie’. Yes, it’s serialised, yes it tells mostly one story and several sub-plots over the course of its run, but the background of both Humphrey and Kelley’s work in crafting this type of thing over twenty-odd episodes on network television means that every episode feels like part of a whole but has an episodic structure of its own.
The pace is fast, the tone is slick and sharp and while it does nothing new in regards to the storytelling itself, sometimes being able to brilliantly play the hits and do it well is just enough and The Lincoln Lawyer plays the law show greatest hits album to a very entertaining degree.
2022 has seen not one but two big name crime novelists have iconic characters make their way to the small screen successfully after having somewhat stumbled previously in their attempts as movie series. Like Reacher, Prime Video’s smash hit interpretation of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (and an equally enjoyable series it was too), Connelly’s character was previously adapted for the big screen before finding a seemingly more comfortable fit on television, even though one can see how the character and these stories fit both mediums like a glove.
Like the first Jack Reacher film, 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer was very enjoyable, but it somewhat got lost in a commercial movie sphere that was seeing the type of mid-budgeted, star-led drama/thriller combination that it was very much part and parcel of become something that Hollywood was turning away from in favour of either big-budget spectacle, or things on a more lower budgeted end of things.
Of course, that type of film has found more of a home on the small screen nowadays, and that type of project has been somewhat refashioned into the world of the television series. What is most gratifying about this iteration of The Lincoln Lawyer (as it was also with Reacher) is that it’s a show that doesn’t forget how to work as a television series; the murder case that dominates the main arc builds to a dramatic run of episodes towards the end which sees the series on fiery form as both a drama and a thriller, delivering a home run of twists and turns that grip like a vice.
But it also feels like the type of glossy serialised procedural that we don’t get enough of nowadays, especially on Netflix. The streamer has made its name as the home of serialised television, the type of projects that are designed to lead the viewer from one episode to the next just as the credits roll, so it’s rather pleasing in an old-school way to have a series like this also devote itself to smaller arcs and self-contained dramatic moments that are only there for an episode.
It helps that not only is this well written and slickly directed and produced, but it also has an ace in the shape of its leading actor Manuel Garcia-Ruffo as Mickey Haller. It take a dab pair of hands to make a character like this a sympathetic one what with the frequent cocky displays of confidence, but Garcia-Ruffo finds a great balance here, managing to work his way out of any courtroom situation, but also finding nuances and sympathetic textures when the more refined parts of the story ask for it.
The ensemble around him does a really great job and each bring their own to the table, even if Neve Campbell feels like she’s been lumbered more with a sub-plot compared to everyone else which in the end feels like is there only so a major sub-plot involving one of Haller’s previous cases has something to link back to, if only tangentially.
In an era when Netflix have become more famous for cancelling the vast majority of their series, The Lincoln Lawyer has bucked that trend and been renewed for a second season. With five other (at the time of writing) Connelly novels centred on Haller to work from, there is the potential here for a long running series, and on the basis of this hopefully one that might last for a while.