'Doubt' Series Premiere Review: Laverne Cox is the best part of Katherine Heigl's bad show
In Mic's TV club, senior arts writer Kevin O'Keeffe and arts writer Miles Surrey will watch an episode of a TV show with no regard to how familiar we are with it. The next morning, we'll dissect it in a conversation with one or two other Mic staffers. This week's show: CBS' Doubt, with guest Mathew Rodriguez.
Kevin O'Keeffe (KO): Doubt is the fourth show we've covered here at Mic's TV club, and unfortunately, I'd consider it easily the worst of the four. But I think I'm the one of us who liked the show the most — which is intriguing, to say the least. True, the Katherine Heigl legal drama, which premiered on CBS Wednesday night, is a bit basic. I enjoyed the ensemble cast a lot, particularly Dulé Hill and Laverne Cox as attorneys at Heigl's firm. (We could use their character names to talk about them, but let's not kid ourselves, we won't need to remember them after tonight.)
The problem I had with Doubt is that it hinges on an indefensible plot: Heigl falls in love with a client, played by Steven Pasquale, who may have murdered his college girlfriend. This is such an absurd ethical breach, and the writing isn't nearly strong enough to mask that foundational problem. The cast may be likable, but they're working in service of a dead fish of a concept.
Still, I find Doubt simple versus disastrous — like watching a legal procedural with no ambition or ability beyond that. Miles, Mathew, I'm assuming you two liked it substantially less?
Miles Surrey (MS): Without a doubt, I like Doubt the least of the four TV club shows so far. The plot is silly, and hinges on the fact that we could see why Heigl falls in love with this man to the point of believing he's not the killer. That he's played by Pasquale, who most recently played racist detective Mark Fuhrman in FX’s The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, does nothing but arouse suspicion.
While it’s great to see Laverne Cox in roles outside of Orange Is the New Black, I don’t like the way she was used in the pilot. She was dealing with her own court case, which feels so disparate from the rest of Doubt — really, the only link she has to Heigl is that they work at the same firm. I’d much rather watch a legal drama where Cox is the lead, and Heigl is nowhere to be seen.
Mathew Rodriguez (MR): Not to get too SJW about it, but I felt like most of Doubt not only lacked quality in terms of writing, but also rested on some pretty offensive plot points. Heigl is a high-powered lawyer who doesn't recognize that falling in love with her client is a bad idea? Especially one who is on trial for murder? If this were another (admittedly very dark) Heigl rom-com, I might be willing to give the lawyer-client relationship a chance. In a serious fare like this, it just comes off as insulting to Heigl's character's intelligence.
KO: I don't disagree about how problematic these points are, but for what it's worth, Heigl's character does realize how bad an idea falling in love with her client is. She just does it anyway.
MR: The doing it anyway is the problem. It's the same tired, 'she can't help herself, she's driven by emotions' storyline.
Meanwhile, while Cox is good in her role and dominates every scene she's in, the details of her case are not without their own problems. The entire case is just her repeating "but he's crazy!" over and over and makes her client, who does have mental health issues, out to be dangerous. If you've ever watched any horror movie, from Split to Psycho, you know this is an old trope, and Doubt uses it to no actual plot value, which makes it a double crime.
KO: I found myself wishing in a lot of ways that the show were about Cox and Hill's characters, with Dreama Walker's sweet-seeming junior character as a tertiary lead. Combine those actors with some stronger writing, and you might get something compelling.
MR: I agree with you. I think a show that focuses more on the female empowerment angle, given that one of the lawyers is a trans woman of color, would be great.
MS: Cox was the standout to me, but I wasn’t really drawn to anyone else in the cast — even Hill. He can play deadpan in his sleep, considering he spent eight years doing Psych, but he wasn’t great in the pilot. His character also left his dog on the street tied to a pole for 12 hours and brushed it off since the dog was fine, so fuck him.
MR: Yeah, can we talk about the absurdity with which they just talk about a marriage dissolution over leaving a dog tied up? They casually discuss it while on the job on a walk outside, and Hill has no reaction to the fact that he both put an animal's life in danger and lost the woman he loved. I thought I was in a bizarro world for a minute.
That's one of the problems with the pilot: The writers seem tone-deaf and as if they don't know how to render any characters. Heigl is a lawyer, but she's dominated by her emotions, not logic! The client is crazy, he can't help it! Hey, this guy just killed his marriage and doesn't care! Hard for us to care about any of these characters when they seem to make bad decisions for no reason.
KO: The dog thing was baffling, and I think I kind of blocked it out because Hill's character is more charming in the coming episodes. (I've seen episodes two and five.) The ensemble does get significantly more fleshed out as the show goes on, but Heigl's character remains flat.
We keep kind of skating around it, but let's talk about Heigl. She is one of our most divisive actresses. It's hard not to have a hot take on her. I'm interested in hearing y'all's, specifically about this show (but, inevitably, about her generally).
MR: She is really playing this like it's her comeback. Her delivery often seems forced and unnatural, like she's acting to impress rather than acting to emote. But, in fairness, the character is flatter and drier than a Triscuit.
MS: Any show that opens with Katherine Heigl biking her way through the busy streets of New York City deserves to be canceled after one season.
Joking aside, she’s a surprising choice, considering she’s basically turned into industry kryptonite. She hasn’t made a good rom-com since Knocked Up (see: 27 Dresses, New Year’s Eve, The Ugly Truth), and NBC’s State of Affairs unsurprisingly lasted only one season.
Doubt isn’t going to change that, for the reasons Mathew just mentioned. It’s funny to imagine that she really believed this was her comeback, because the dialogue alone is so cringe-worthy.
MR: Her capital-A Acting comes off a little capital-D Desperate.
KO: Anything else we want to add? I'm assuming it's clear by now that none of us will be watching Doubt further.
MS: Not really. I am willing to bet money on my belief that Doubt will be canceled after one season, though.
Doubt airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CBS. Mic's TV club will reconvene Sunday night to talk about HBO's new series, Big Little Lies.