One of the primal thrills of Bryan Cranston’s performance as chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White (in the 2008-2013 show Breaking Bad ) was watching a good man give up on his moral compass: slowly at first, and then in great big gushes. In Cranston’s latest TV outing, the miniseries Your Honor , there are echoes of a comparable morality play, but the similarities end there.
Borrowing the premise of the Israeli show Kvodo , Your Honor follows the butterfly effect-like spiraling aftermath of a motor accident — Adam (Hunter Doohan), the son of New Orleans judge Michael Desiato (Cranston), runs over and kills the son of ruthless mob boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). As Desiato uses his power and contacts to cover up his son’s mistake, the web of lies leads to a collision course between him and Baxter.
Baxter vs Walter White
It is fair to say that Cranston was prepared for the Walter White parallels. He compared the two characters at a recent virtual interview session — where he was joined by the show’s writer, Peter Moffat, and Edward Berger, who directed the first three episodes. “The things that Walter White did, the measures he took to procure wealth… they were his own design,” Cranston says, adding, “And he did exactly what he planned to do. Michael Desiato doesn’t have the luxury of foresight. If you look at his trajectory as a character, it is almost like a regular guy’s extremely animalistic response to his circumstances. There’s very little premeditation, at least at first.” This “animalistic response” is most apparent when initially, he tries to set up a teenager named Kofi Jones (Lamar Johnson) for the vehicular manslaughter charge.
Speaking about the show’s conception, screenwriter and playwright Moffat ( Criminal Justice ), who developed Your Honor , says, “Liz [executive producer Liz Glotzer] asked me what I would do if my child accidentally killed someone in a hit-and-run. She asked what my next three steps or three questions would be, and I started noting them down. By the end of the night, I had over a hundred questions and we both knew this show was going to work.”
Contrary to stereotypes
Michael Stuhlbarg had previously worked with Cranston on the film Trumbo, interestingly, also set in New Orleans. When it came to “chemistry readings” during the production of Your Honor , Cranston knew he wanted Stulhbarg for the role of Jimmy Baxter — a self-made Scottish immigrant who becomes a feared mafia boss. “One of the things that Peter and I thought would work with Baxter’s character was that it should be contrary to mafia stereotypes. Stuhlbarg’s stature (5’5”) really played into that as well, and, of course, he’s a tremendous actor.”
Your Honor has some overlap with recent American good-man-goes-bad thrillers, most notably The Night Of, but one of the areas where it distinguishes itself is the visual treatment. The show’s stunning opening sequence has drawn praise from critics.
The show’s 10-episode run will come to an end mid-February, and eventually it will find its way to Netflix and company. Binge if you must, but its slow-burning pleasures are, one would argue, the domain of an earlier era of television — and that’s a good thing.
Your Honor is streaming on Voot Select