The increasing prominence of limited series typically represents closed-loop storytelling that is specifically designed to play itself out over the course of a set number of episodes. But those that become truly popular unsurprisingly have network executives and creatives contemplating making more of a hit even if that wasn’t initially part of the plan. Squid Game and Big Little Lies are two prominent examples of series that ended up not being quite so limited, and now Showtime’s Your Honor is the latest show to be continued beyond its original conception.
Season one of this New Orleans-set drama found Judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston) springing into action to move heaven and earth to protect his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) following his involvement in a hit-and-run that took the life of the son of mobster Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). A long line of problematic lies and cover-ups led to devastating consequences in the first season finale, setting up a somber and messier second season. A scraggly, bearded Michael being force fed in jail in the opening scene sets the tone appropriately, a father in mourning who feels he has little to live for and has no interest in cooperating with anyone else. But an unexpected lifeline from U.S. Attorney Olivia Delmont (Rosie Perez) throws him back into another precarious position, one that will force him to once again get close to the violent Baxter family.
It’s hard to find an optimistic character in the season two opener, with the one exception being Charlie Figaro (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a career politician who also happens to be Michael’s best friend and is the unwitting target of a criminal investigation for his role in covering up Adam’s actions. Getting revenge is a common theme for those who have lost someone, which leads to an unfortunate cycle of violence that will only lead to more loss and heartbreak. Former allies who now know the truth, like Detective Nancy Costello (Amy Landecker), who feels entirely betrayed by Michael’s lies and unwilling to do even the slightest of favors to help improve his situation. That may not be an inviting setup, but it sets up some intense confrontations and a foreboding ticking clock for any hope at a semblance of a happy ending.
Cranston, who hit a career high with his Emmy-winning role as cancer-stricken high school teacher-turned-meth cook Walter White on Breaking Bad, continues to do his fair share of showboating, adding a great deal of drama to all his line delivery. There is definitely a noticeable shift in Michael’s power dynamic as he now longer has a son to set an example for and has lost the legal position in which he could exert moral superiority over others. It’s most interesting to watch his scenes with Perez, who, fresh off an excellent Emmy-nominated turn on The Flight Attendant, is a formidable addition who adds some much-needed levity to the show’s often overbearing dreariness and the most legitimately interesting new storyline of season two.
As in season one, the strongest assets of this series are the two actors playing the criminal power couple: Stuhlbarg and Hope Davis. The way in which Jimmy and Gina deal with their grief is radically different, with Jimmy deliberating carefully while seeking avenues to avoid needles suffering and Gina clamoring for senseless destruction for the sake of revenge. Stuhlbarg and Davis deliver nuanced, scenery-chewing turns that stand apart from their other frequent television work and show why they are two of the best actors working today. Lilli Kay also gets a very worthwhile spotlight as their daughter Fia, who presses an uninterested Michael to have a relationship that can keep Adam’s memory alive. It’s not clear that a second season of this relatively standard show was entirely necessary, but given that this is also the final arc of this story, it’s probably worth finishing for those who invested time in the first.
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New episodes of Your Honor premiere on Showtime on-demand Fridays and on-air on Sundays at 9pm.