‘Your Honor’: Bryan Cranston Breaks Bad Again, With An Explanation

Bryan Cranston apparently can’t help breaking bad.

For viewers, that’s good. A trifle redundant, perhaps, but in general, good.

Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato.

Your Honor, a 10-part series launching at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on Showtime, has Cranston playing Michael Desiato, a respected New Orleans judge who is going places until the day his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) accidentally hits and kills a motorcyclist.

Adam flees the scene, turning an auto accident into a hit-and-run. More ominously, Michael by sheer chance learns that the victim, Rocco Baxter, was the son of Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), the most cold-blooded and vicious mobster walking the streets of New Orleans.

That piece of information reverses Michael’s plan to have Adam turn himself in and try to get the best fair deal possible.

Michael, like many viewers, probably remembers the real-life story of the Long Island man who accidentally ran over the son of real-life mobster John Gotti. The man wasn’t arrested or tried, just cut in half with a chain saw.

Judicial ethics do not routinely allow sitting judges to shield family members from accountability for their actions or due process of law.

Judicial ethics, Michael quickly realizes, would not keep his son alive. For what he sees as all the right reasons, then, he breaks bad.

Your Honor, written by Peter Moffat from the blueprint of the Israeli TV series Kvodo, was green-lit in 2017. It was two years before Cranston and the other actors were cast, and then the filming was delayed by Covid, wrapping up a week or two ago.

If the development pace ended up being deliberate, so is the show itself. Its cadence is measured and it takes its time lingering on details.

We don’t get a quick cut of Rocco’s anguished mother Gina (Hope Davis) grieving. We get a long look, just as we earlier got a long look at Adam’s response after hitting the motorcycle.

Hunter Doohan as Adam Desiato.

Adam got out of his car, went over to see if Rocco was as badly hurt as it looked, and tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He started to call 911 before panic overtook him and he drove away, leaving Rocco to die in the middle of a desolate neighborhood where even the screech and thud of a fatal accident failed to bring a single other person into sight.

While the setup feels extended and occasionally awkward, it’s only a setup. The real story doesn’t begin until Michael is slammed into the highest-stakes chess match of his life, with both the police good guys and the mobster bad guys playing against him.

That this chess match will extend over nine more episodes correctly suggests the viewer will not be able to slide through the tough scenes with just a fast hint of what happened. Your Honor will be dwelling on moments both relatively benign and potentially lethal.

Michael Desiato evokes more sympathy than Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad. He was recently widowed and he’s raising Adam alone. As a judge he has a wide streak of decency. He still has no trouble getting cold-blooded when survival seems to be at stake.

Adam seems like a good kid, with a nice girlfriend. He misses his mother, whose death seems to have a troubling backstory, and he likes watching Shawshank Redemption with his Dad. He is severely asthmatic, which was one of the reasons he panicked at the accident scene.

Cranston makes Desiato’s transformation from a passionate advocate for truth into an agent of deceit seem both anguished and credible.

He’s backed by strong, chilling performances from Stuhlbarg and Davis. Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays Charlie, Michael’s oldest friend and potentially the next mayor of New Orleans. Carmen Ejogo plays Lee Delamere, one of the lawyers, and other familiar faces include Margo Martindale and Maura Tierney.

There’s nothing quick, clean or easy about watching Your Honor. At a time when Covid has left many of the usual TV drama shelves empty, it’s an intense tale of what happens when a decent man hits his breaking point.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”