Based on the book by William Landay, Defending Jacob follows the Barber family, who are perfect in practically every way a suburban American family can be. However, all that changed when their 14-year-old son, Jacob is accused of murdering his classmate in a local forest.
The series is presented as being different than most crime dramas, and at first, it achieves its goal by placing the audience one step ahead of the characters (almost) at all times. Still, its everything in between that pulls it back into being just another run of the mill, beat-by-beat crime drama.
The series is at its strongest when it manages to maintain its mystery. Did Jacob Barber commit the crime? We are given fragmented pieces of evidence which suggest that Jacob may know more than he’s telling —but at the same time, we are given some shreds of evidence that suggests he may not have any involvement what-so-ever. It’s a constant tug-of-war battle that leads up to an ending that manages to be both satisfying yet unsatisfying.
The tension alone was enough to keep me invested, and that’s something the show does well. There are many scenes where you will feel that tight-knotted sensation in your chest, and it only gets worse when the mystery thickens, and the mystery becomes wrapped with more mysteries.
The series stars Chris Evans (who also produces the series) as Andy Barber, Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) as Laurie Barber and Jaeden Martell (It and Knives Out) as Jacob Barber.
Evans is excellent in the role and has never given an awful performance, but there is just something missing from him. He shares great chemistry with Dockery. They don’t sell themselves as the all-American couple they’re supposed to be, but they work well enough together that they’re on-screen dynamic is engaging.
My biggest issue was the dynamic between Evans and Martell’s Jacob. I didn’t buy into Evan’s having a 14-year-old son, even if he is old enough to have one —it just didn’t seem believable —this may stem from the high chance that Evan’s has been bathing in the fountain of youth which has made him appear a lot younger than he is. Still, it’s also because Andy and Laurie have a severe chemistry deficiency with Jacob.
In reality, Jacob has chemistry with just one person, his love interest, who is discarded in later episodes without care. This could be purposefully done as Jacob is an extremely apathetic character that Martell is easily able to use to his advantage, such as the many scenes where Jacob is merely watching his parents. You can see him calculating them in his eyes.
Out of the three leading actors, it’s Dockery that truly shines because she is given the most to work with. Unlike her husband, Laurie is on a journey full of flip-flopping emotions, which she is struggling to juggle: she has the hope of her child’s innocence but also the doubt for it. Dockery isn’t a total scene-stealer, but when she’s left alone with Evans and Martell, you can very much feel her energy shining so bright that it completely eclipses them.
J.K Simmons plays Billy Barber, Andy’s father and Jacob’s grandfather. While Simmons’ role is limited to only a glorified cameo for several episodes, he does what he can with the character, and he kills it. For someone that seems so lovely in real life, it’s great to see he has the range to play an absolute arsehole with just a click of his fingers.
Defending Jacob has such an incredibly talented supporting cast that it’s almost criminal. If any show this year was to get Emmy nominations for just the supporting cast alone, it’s Defending Jacob. Cherry Jones (The Handmaid’s Tale) is the obvious highlight as Joanna, Jacob’s lawyer. Jones gives a reserved but natural performance that is just captivating.
The commercials have been selling Defending Jacob as a crime drama with a new lens. While it certainly doesn’t tread any new ground, it still manages to be a crime drama with an intriguing mystery, which is enough for viewers to get sucked in.
Is it worth purchasing an Apple TV+ subscription? No, but Apple TV+ have been hitting it out of the park with their originals, The Morning Show, Servant and Trying, to just name a few so at this moment in time all I can say is have a look at getting a free trial.
The first three episodes of Defending Jacob will be released exclusively on Apple TV+ on April 24th, with all subsequent episodes being released weekly from then.
Final Rating: 7/10
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.