Apple’s Defending Jacob Is The Ipad Of TV Shows.
“They became national news,” be begins, “an object of fascination for both the NPR set and the TMZ crowd, the subject of a popular podcast, hundreds of editorials and countless articles. So it’s easy to forget that a little over a year ago their lives were as uneventful and mundane as our own.”
Well, not quite, buddy, as most of us currently count growing facial hair as an interest. But we get the point: this is TV meant for everyone. High-end enough to attract the HBO crowd, low-end enough to attract those who’ve lost the remote somewhere around ITV3.
This is partly why it stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans – a man who manages to mean the same to everyone, but not much to any of them. Here, he plays a bearded district attorney called Andy who is detailed to the case of a murder at his son’s school – and of a boy in his son’s class.
No, he insists to his boss, this is not a conflict of interest at all, before swanning along to the boy’s wake, where every other parent asks him if he’s caught the culprit yet. And by the way, where’s his son?
So yes, the idea is a sound one: namely, how far would you go if it looked like your son might be the one who did the crime?
We are, clearly, in Gone Girl/Girl On The Train/Sharp Objects territory – paperback source material that gets the hardback TV treatment. And, in fairness, when it works it’s a winning formula: as Sharp Objects proved, quality-crap beats crap-quality.
And high-end melodrama does, in many ways, suit Apple down to the ground: a company known less for innovating than taking existing inventions and making them work really well. Defending Jacob follows that to the letter by being stylish but unexciting: a Steve Jobs polo neck in TV form, if ever there was one. Nothing wrong with it. No one’s going to say it doesn’t look great. But it’s hardly statement. And it’s very much not about taking risks.
The dialogue moves everything along perfectly efficiently. But there’s a deathlessness to it, an air that every fourth line where the character would have been has been ruthlessly removed to make the machine more efficient.
“Just came form the Rifkins,” says Evans at one point. “It was…”
“That bad, huh?” says his wife, played by Downton Abbey alumni Michelle Dockery, without even waiting for the pause. Here, even the clichés don’t get room to breathe.
You can even see this pruned purity in the background of every shot too – or at least every domestic scene. Like the other contemporary Apple shows- from The Morning Show to Servant – everything is minimal and beautiful and clearly not lived in by any human at any point.
But why wouldn’t it be beautiful? Because, after all, even the backdrop of brutal child murder is as good a place as any to showcase the latest gleaming Apple products.
How obscene if, when Chris Evans is in his lounge looking handsome in knitwear, trying to crack the case on the latest MacBook Pro – and in this particular scene, looking, for the first time, at social media accusations that his own son is the killer – the room itself was a mess. Every text, naturally, is sent from an iPhone, every ping the one we know so well.
At one point, one teen calls another on FaceTime, which I think I’m correct in saying is the first time any teen has ever done that. Still, always nice to get it on camera.
The social media accuser, by the way, says that Evans’ son owns a knife and so he instantly marches up to his son’s room while he sleeps to find out the truth. He opens his bedside drawer and finds something stuffed in a sock, something clearly shameful he doesn’t want his father knowing about. Evans fishes it out, just out of frame, but looks with abject horror as he flips a mechanism open. He needn’t have worried – it’s not the new Nokia flip phone, merely a huge flick knife. Phew!
None of which, actually, is to say that Defending Jacob is bad at all. It’s fun and diverting and it is, at its essence, a wonderful idea. Think of it as the iPad of TV shows: it looks sleek, it’s fun and diverting and it’s designed to within an inch of its life. But it’s hardly essential.
The first three episodes of Defending Jacob are on Apple TV+ now.