There is something of the classic Greek tragedy about Defending Jacob, despite the fact that the rather thin story is overstretched into eight episodes and the ending is somewhat ambiguous.
It might on the surface be about a shocking murder, but in fact it is about wrong choices. Good people doing bad things to protect their own interests. Questions about the nature of good and evil. Issues of pre-destination – is there such a thing as a ‘murder gene’?
Whatever it is, it is compelling viewing that leaves you with the uncomfortable feeling that, if you were in the situation of the protagonists, you might do the same. The most disconcerting thing about the story and the characters is that they seem to be blind to the irony of their own actions. Would you also, placed in this situation, explain your behaviour with the same excuses?
The acting is workmanlike. Chris Evans could be the little brother of Ben Affleck: Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey – the American accent sounds a bit strange at first) only has one expression and looks pained and puzzled throughout, and the other actors turn in paint-by-numbers performances. The apparent motive for the murder seems a bit weak and the murdering father is a Dickensian caricature of the sinister convict. The plotholes in the story are irritating (why didn’t he take the car’s numberplate right away?) and there are far too many lingering shots of expressionless faces.
But it’s what the story does to the viewer that makes the series so powerful. The smug privilege of the Barber family makes you really ache to have them guilty. You wonder if you would behave the same under the same circumstances. And you wonder, at the end, when the long-overdue come-uppance is on its way.
All ripe for a second season.