Following his iconic role as Walter White in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston has returned to television to produce and star in Showtime’s Your Honor. From the start, the miniseries was quite melodramatic, but by December 13’s episode “Part Two,” it’s clear the show sees itself as having a role in addressing the treatment of minorities and the poor.
Cranston plays Judge Michael Desiato, whose son Adam (Hunter Doohan) killed a fellow 17-year-old riding a motorcycle in a hit and run. Michael is all ready to do the right thing and have his son turn himself in, until he learns that Adam killed the son of local crime boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). Michael will now go through any and all lengths to save his son.
At the start of this week’s episode, Michael talks with his best friend Charlie (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) about making the car used in the accident disappear. Not only can Charlie make that happen, but he’s running for mayor. The show takes place in New Orleans, after all.
Charlie's answer is using a scapegoat, Kofi Jones (Lamar Johnson), who is also 17-years-old, but is black. Michael had sympathized with Kofi’s mother when presiding over a case last episode, in which she was being charged with drug possession, where Michael believed she was being set up by the police.
When Kofi is pulled over for running a red light in the stolen vehicle, police immediately rush over to him, guns drawn, screaming, yelling, and threatening to shoot him. They make a show of slamming him around before handcuffing him.
While momentarily it looks like Kofi will be released, it only gets worse for him from there. Baxter’s friend on the police force, Lt. Brendan Cusack (David Maldonado), tortures Kofi into making a false confession, for a crime he has no idea he’s having to take the blame for.
As Kofi is being formally charged, the courtroom is quite the spectacle. Kofi is even stripped down to the waist for all to see his gang-affiliated tattoos. Michael isn’t presiding over this case, but the judge who is presiding stands in stark contrast.
Although by episode’s end Michael decides he ultimately needs to help Kofi, there is yet another dramatic moment in which he raises his voice to tell Mrs. Jones he can’t help her son when she pleads for him to intervene.
The sensationalism isn’t merely for the sake of drama. Cranston and Doohan spoke with Variety just ahead of the show’s premiere.
According to Cranston, the show is about how the justice system doesn’t “work for everyone.”
There are characters in it that are completely devoted to the justice system, as flawed as it may be at times. Does it work for everyone? No. And this show will expose that frailty, the prejudice, that it bends its knees to those who are powerful or rich or have white privilege — all of which Michael tries to use to his advantage. In that way it is reflective of our times, and the complexity of racial relations and the unjust nature of being poor, Black or Hispanic in the system and how justice has more than one scale, depending on who you are.
Doohan is even more woke:
Our show, especially in the second episode, gets into white privilege and the imbalance of power. The reason Adam is able to get away with it is because of who he is and who his dad is. I’m really glad that Peter Moffat included that because to do a show, especially now, set in the criminal justice world that didn’t touch on white privilege or systematic racism would be incredibly irresponsible and insulting.
There you have it; it looks like shows have a duty then to address social ills of the day, or otherwise be deemed “incredibly... insulting.”