Your Honor (4 stars)

Your Honor

Tense drama fuelled by one moral quandary after another which gives Bryan Cranston another chance to express conflicted charm

Who do American TV casting agents turn to when they need an actor to express the despair of stepping outside a moral compass to save your family but where every decision you make only serves to make matters worse? Why, Bryan Cranston, of course. He set that template for himself as Walter White, the mild-mannered teacher turned murderous crystal-meth manufacturer of Breaking Bad, and he's at it again in Your Honor.

This time around, Cranston plays upstanding New Orleans judge Michael Desiato who controls his court by wielding fair justice and dishing out warm empathy in equal measure. A widower whose law-enforcing spouse was killed one year prior in the line of duty, he loves his dog Django and would do anything to protect teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan). This drama, created by Peter Moffatt (Criminal Justice), asks one big question: what would you do if someone close had committed a crime, but where pursuing the straight path of the law might be putting them directly into severe harm's way?

This is Michael's central conflict when a driving Adam, struggling to reach his inhaler during a moment of high anxiety, accidentally runs over a young motor cyclist (some journalists have deemed it fine to reveal the motor cyclist's identity in their reviews, but we will stay within our own moral compass and allow that information to be experienced afresh given how crucial it is to the drama's narrative trajectory). As viewers, we are instantly plunged into his quandary, torn between the weight of integrity and the harsh realities of life. None of us would walk very easily in Michael's tennis shoes (his chosen footwear for court which tells us all we need to know that this guy is no stuffed shirt), but hindsight paints a different picture as one calamity after another befalls people including a high degree of strangers featuring as collateral damage due to his life-altering choice.

Cranston is joined in a winning cast by Carmen Ejogo as a truth-seeking lawyer and possible love interest for Michael, Isiah Whitlock Jr as a local politician and Michael's lifelong pal (and godfather to Adam), and Maura Tierney as a dogged prosecutor while Hope Davis and Michael Stuhlbarg play (with menacing perfection) parents who would also go the extra mile to get what they want for their kids. In dramatic terms, the show does stretch credulity a little during a slightly flabby middle as Desiato finds himself at yet another new and terrible crossroads just as he appears to have smoothed over the latest seemingly impossible dilemma. But in the main, Your Honor is an intricately-plotted and tension-filled odyssey with opening and closing sequences which should leave viewers shattered, possibly physically but certainly in spirit.

Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays, 9pm, all episodes available now on NOW TV.

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