A Remake No One Requested: Our Review of ‘Presumed Innocent’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - June 10, 2024
A Remake No One Requested: Our Review of ‘Presumed Innocent’

Presumed Innocent is the sort of unimaginative, paint-by-numbers prestige Murder drama we’ve become too accustomed to seeing. This Applt TV+ limited series is created by the venerable David E. Kelly and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a prosecutor named Rusty, who finds himself on trial for murder when a colleague ends up dead (he was also having an affair with said colleague). Rusty’s wife is played by none other than Ruth Negga. Peter Saarsgard, Bill Camp, and Lily Rabe also play supporting parts. In terms of casting and its creator, Presumed Innocent is an embarrassment of riches, but as shiny as its stars may be, the final product doesn’t glitter…

The series kicks off with the murder of a capable thirty-something prosecutor named Caroline. When Rusty hears of her gruesome death, he is initially assigned to  case. The issue? His boss doesn’t know he was sleeping with her. Soon, all is revealed and Rusty becomes the primary suspect in the death of a female character who is perhaps the definition of two-dimensional. All we know about the victim is the following: She has slept with Rusty, she was a decent prosecutor, and she was a bad mother who abandoned a son her colleagues didn’t even know existed. Let’s just say that female characters are not this series’ strongsuit….

A remake of a 1990 Harrison Ford movie that was based on a 1987 Scott Turow movie, it’s not clear why this well-worn IP needed to be revisited. Admittedly, there are half-hearted attempts at injecting a modern sensibility. For example, Rusty and his wife Barbara (Negga) have a disagreement over Rusty’s colour-blind approach to parenting their children. After the police become suspicious in their youngest child, Barbara warns Rusty, “Sometimes you forget your son is black!” It’s a reasonable point, but overall, the series has little interest in providing a meaningful analysis of the impacts of racism in America; instead, it’s mostly a run-of-the-mill courtroom drama about a lawyer turned-defendant who might not be guilty but is so creepy you kind of want him to convicted anyway…

While there is no law that protagonists need to be likeable, when a series doesn’t have much artistry or a meaningful message to recommend it, likeability is an essential component of watchability. As we see Rusty attempt to pin Caroline’s murder on someone – anyone – else, you start to wonder how such a whiney man had once been a respected and accomplished attorney. Worse yet, when you find out he had broken up with Caroline and was basically stalking the poor woman at the time of her death, he comes off like an exceptionally handsome incel.

Of course, a good villain can often salvage a lacklustre series, but even the reliable Peter Saarsgard gives an underwhelming performance. A a  former professional rival of Rusty, his character is hellbent on taking the accused down – and more because he doesn’t like Rusty than because he wants justice for the woman he believes his colleague killed.

If you can’t get enough of murder dramas – no matter what the quality – you might as well give Presumed Innocent a try. But if you’re hoping to consume something that truly makes you think and/or feel, this is not the show for you.

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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