Bryan Cranston is still breaking bad in the pacey thriller series Your Honor

Bryan Cranston breaks bad again—this time as a judge protecting his son. Now streaming on Stan, Your Honor is a tight and fraught melodrama—but don’t expect a masterpiece, says critic Travis Johnson. 

New Orleans judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston) finds his respect for the law tested to destruction when his teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan) accidentally runs over and kills another young man, Rocco Baxter (Benjamin Hassan Wadsworth), and flees the scene. The widowed Michael, devoted to his son, sets about concealing the crime: building alibis, erasing evidence and coaching Adam to lie to the police. Things are complicated however by the fact that the victim of the accident was the son of ruthless crime boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg, with Hope Davis as his Lady Macbeth), who is certainly not gonna let the death of his boy go unavenged.

Look, we’ve seen this before. Specifically, if you’ve seen the Israeli series Kvodo, you’ve quite literally seen this before. Your Honor is an American remake brought to us by English showrunner Peter Moffat (Cambridge Spies, Undercover).

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But speaking more generally, surely we’re all quite familiar with the notion of Bryan Cranston as an ostensibly “good” man forced to turn to crime in order to protect his family? Breaking Bad, Cranston’s break out show, is correctly lauded as one of the greatest TV series of all time, and woe betide the ambitious series that invites direct comparison, for it can only come off second best.

Which doesn’t mean Your Honor isn’t worth a taste, but expect hamburger rather than filet mignon. This is a meat and potatoes paranoid thriller, with each choice that Cranston’s judge makes leading to several more problems that he needs to solve, further entangling him in malfeasance.

It’s a fairly rote and mechanical approach to plotting but Cranston, whose hangdog face makes communicating the inner life of his character seem effortless, gets us to buy in on the emotional stakes even as the narrative gets more lurid. He’s just gotta save his son and the drive to do so, despite all personal and ethical cost, is palpable.

A truly impressive supporting cast are on hand to get dragged into Michael’s increasingly desperate situation—including Isiah Whitlock Jr. as his best mate, Mayoral candidate Charlie Figaro, who helps dispose of Adam’s car (and while we’re cautioning against reminding viewers of better shows, Whitlock was in The Wire, while Your Honor’s N’Awlins setting recalls another great David Simon series, Treme). Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts) turns up as lawyer Lee Delamare, Michael’s former protégé and, seemingly, future love interest, while the great Margot Martindale (Million Dollar Baby, Justified) appears from the fourth episode as Michael’s rather hostile former mother-in-law.

Meanwhile Stuhlbarg, who has made a career out of mostly playing cultured intellectuals and put-upon everymen, is chillingly effective as the doting but deadly Baxter. It’s a role at least somewhat reminiscent of his turn as Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire.

Your Honor ticks along at a decent pace, steadily ratcheting the tension and complicating the plot so that we as viewers are constantly engaged, if never quite engrossed. But that’s okay—very few series are going to be paradigm-breaking masterpieces, so we should keep that in mind when regarding this one. It’s a tight, fraught slice of melodrama that will please fans of a particular type of television but probably won’t make anyone else rearrange their viewing schedule to accommodate it—and that’s fine.