Currently streaming on AppleTV+ from creator Mark Bomback and director Morten Tyldum is the story of a family that loses who they are all because they are DEFENDING JACOB.
In Massachusetts, Andy Barber (Chris Evans) is the towns prominent District Attorney and is well respected by the community. Laurie Barber (Michelle Dockery) is busy working with local school and their son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) attends the local high school. The family keeps a busy pace and Jacob can be found on his electronics.
What would seem normal to the Barber family is about to be shaken to its core. Jacob’s classmate Ben is found murdered on the path on the way to school. Andy and officer Pam Duffy (Betty Gabriel) go immediately to the murder scene as the school is placed on lockdown. Looking for suspects, Duffy brings up sexual predator Leonard Patz (Daniel Henshall) but holds off speaking to him until there is more to go on.
Baker and Duffy take the time to talk to classmates and it seems that Sarah (Jordan Davis) is more uncomfortable than the rest. Each tell the story of Ben being somewhat of a bully and friend Derek (Ben Taylor) recalls being harassed by Ben a time or two. Later that evening the online chat among the teens brings panic to Baker with fingers being pointed.
Duffy questions Patz but has to let him go and back at the D.A.’s office, Baker finds out that there is one lone fingerprint found at the crime scene – Jacob’s. Baker is immediately removed from the case and the police swarm the house as Laurie watches items being taken out of their home. It is Jacob’s response that causes the most worry.
The Baker’s immediately hire Joanna Klein (Cherry Jones) to represent Jacob. Klein tells the family to not give interviews, no posting on social media and to lay low without trying to seem like they are laying low. What the family has not seen yet is the response from the town but that is coming, and it won’t stop until there are answers.
Klein has Jacob see behavior therapist Dr. Vogel (Poorna Jagannathan) and, along with Andy and Laurie, feelings begin to emerge and memories flood through Laurie about her son. Jacob tells his parents he is innocent but more and more comes out about the relationship with Ben that causes his own mother to question her thoughts.
Barber also must come to terms with his past as his father Billy Barber (J.K Simmons) injects himself into the problems the family already has. Andy is staying out of the office and Laurie has to stay away from her work, Jacob turns to homeschooling and an unlikely friendship with Sarah begins and that is the new normal at the Barber home. Eight weeks may seem a long time before the trial is to begin but not when each day brings new and frightening revelations.
Andy is not going down without a fight; Laurie does not know what to fight and Jacob acts like he has no fight in him. What is the truth of the Baker family and an even bigger question …
…who killed Ben Rifkin?
Evans as tough D.A. Andy Baker is known for his tenacity in prosecuting cases and is dedicated to his family. When Jacob is accused, it throws Baker on the other side of the table. Now, he sees everything from a new perspective and does not like it. Evans as Baker refuses to see what everyone else thinks is clear cut. Shedding his Captain America suit to sink himself into this dark role is well done. There are a few moments when I wanted to shake him (as if I could ever do that!) but that is a parent right? Refusing to see what is right in front of him and Evans takes it to an extremely dangerous edge.
Dockery as Laurie is caught up in a web of unspoken life events and a son that she cannot read so easily. The moment Jacob is accused, Laurie starts playing out their lives in her mind and it becomes a place she cannot seem to get out of. Dockery gives her character the motherly perspective mixed in muck with the reality of it all. There are moments I will say that are a bit melodramatic, but then again who is to say that is not how we would all react.
Dockery says of her role as Laurie Baker, “There were moments where I really had to go into a zone because it required a lot of emotion. The moments that are more difficult are the quiet moments with no dialogue because those small moments I really have to go to a different place.”
Martell as Jacob is the sullen angst filled teenager who would rather stay in his room on social media or playing Xbox than hang out with his parents. There is a quiet disconnect that is easily relatable for anyone who had a teenager that is easily overlooked as ‘normal’. Martell quietly dives right into the role of Jacob and never gives away anything that would tell the viewer one way or the other if he is responsible for the death of his classmate. Well done young man and I loved you in KNIVES OUT!
Jones as attorney Klein is the stable force in this very unstable story being told. She knows exactly what to do and how to do it, of course she is dealing with a family that thinks they know better because of Andy. I am not sure I would have had the patience Jones gives us but damn its good to see her once again on screen.
Davis as Sarah is a young girl that is not sure how to handle any of what is happening. She sees what Jacob is going through and tries to be a comfort, but everyone has their secrets. Taylor as Derek has his own part to play and is hiding until pushed onto the witness stand. Both of these young actors add the right amount of tension as teens are good at secrets.
Now, J.K. Simmons as Billy Barber, what can I say about this actor that has not been said already. He continues to be an actor that captivates on screen. In this role, he carries a look and attitude about him that is nothing short of terrifying. Even his sharp retorts are filled with a special kind of venom reserved for a man who knows he is going nowhere (nope, that is all I’m saying about his character). Impressive as always Mr. Simmons, impressive.
Shout out to Pablo Schreiber as Neal Loguidice who is assigned to prosecute Jacob Barber. There is a history with Andy that makes their relationship one based on jealousy and indifference. Which one is which is for the viewer to decide.
Writer William Landay knows a thing or two about drama in the courtroom having served several years as the Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts. He also found time to write the John Creasey Dagger award novel Mission Flats followed up by The Strangler. The novel Defending Jacob hit the shelves in 2012 and became an immediate best-seller. Winning several awards, it is not surprising that it would become a mini-series giving the audience time to get to know the characters.
Other cast include Myra Taylor as Judge Rivera, Carrie Quinn as Kathleen Daryl Edwards as Judge French, Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Mandel, Devon Diep as Reiko, Shawn Fitzgibbon as Detective Peterson, Ted Arcidi as Kingston, Tamara Hickey as Toby, Patrick Fischler as Dan Rifkin, Megan Byrne as Joan Rifkin, Liam Kilbreth as Ben Rifkin and William Xifaras as Father O’Leary.
AppleTV+ is a video on demand web television that debuted in 2019. Viewable through Apple’s TV app, CEO Tim Cook wanted original content calling it “a great opportunity for us from a creation point of view”. From THE MORNING SHOW to TRYING and THE BANKER and Jason Momoa in SEE, there is plenty of choices for everyone. Plenty of genres? That is exactly what they are bringing to viewers and to see more of what they have to offer please visit www.apple.com/tv/.
DEFENDING JACOB is an eight-part series based on the novel and it does not disappoint. It is filled with twists and turns but more than that brings the viewer face to face with a family that thought they had it all and discovers all lived in an empty shell. Each character has their own story to tell and some of it is difficult to hear and some of it pushes each of them to fear.
Each episode throws another wrench into the mucked-up situation that does not only affect the Barber family but has a much longer arm into the community. This is a story of secrets, lies, mystery, fear, panic, unresolved family, breakdowns, truths, realities and how all of that brings this particular family to a place that is frightening.
The cast is absolutely stellar and watching each of them carry their roles to the end had me binging the series all in one sitting. The ending is jaw dropping and leaves the door open for us all to imagine what would come next – and I would binge watch that in a heartbeat!
In the end – family is unconditional.