The Lincoln Lawyer is a good show. No, it’s a great show. It’s smart, it’s entertaining, and it manages to tug at your heartstrings in the most unexpected ways, all while delivering convincing performances and even a twist or two. That shouldn’t be the surprising part, but it is. The show had everything to be just what it ends up being, but promise doesn’t always translate to results. In this case, however, it very much does.
Perhaps it’s because the show never tries to be something other than what it is: crime fiction. The lawyer is the good guy in this one, unlike in so many other shows, and the series quickly establishes this by starting with a Mickey Haller who is down in the dumps. It’s much easier to root for a lawyer if it’s not a rich one, after all. By the time you find out he’s good enough he could — and perhaps should — be rich, you already like him.
The fact that you do like Mickey, though, and continue to, throughout the show, is where the magic is. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is all charm as Mickey Haller, and yet he’s not overt charm. This isn’t Harvey Specter kinda charisma — though Haller does have that Harvey Spector confidence, which feels much less earned on him, at least at first. Instead, what Garcia-Rulfo manages to exude is a quieter kind of charisma. You don’t make a decision to like him, it just sort of happens.
However, the same cannot be said of the rest of the cast. Everyone orbits around Mickey, his two ex-wives — has Neve Campbell ever looked better? — his daughter, his investigator, his chauffeur, the cop who is definitely not a friend. But each and every one of those characters requires a decision from the viewers. You like them because Mickey likes them, and some of them have a chance to grow beyond that, but the show is mostly about Mickey.
And there’s a case, of course. The case. The one you can’t figure out. The one Mickey can’t figure out. And though it seems the answers are obvious on that one, and then they’re not, the show does a good enough job — for those unfamiliar with the source material — of taking you some weird avenues before you get to the truth. The series also does a great job at showcasing the hard work that goes into trial prep, and as someone who has been there, if at least one person understands how hard it all is, then The Lincoln Lawyer will have already won in my book.
Even if that isn’t you, however, the show wins by being smarter than you are in most of the ways that matter — one doesn’t watch crime fiction to be two steps ahead — by being the kind of entertaining you don’t want to stop watching, and by managing to hit the emotional sweet spot that’s hard to truly hit when you’re dealing with a system that is inherently broken.
The Lincoln Lawyer works because of that, above all things. Mickey Haller might be very good at his job, but the series never pretends that, in many ways, Mickey — and some of his clients more than others — aren’t fighting the system, above all.
And though Mickey Haller might pass as white, the show doesn’t forget that he isn’t. Not in this country. Not in the system that has been built to lift up some and oppress others.
Come for one man’s charisma, stay for the well-told law thriller, the female characters that never fall into a stereotype (despite the easy setup for them to do so) and one of the most surprising friendships on TV this year. And, also, come for Cisco. No, seriously, do. If you’d asked me before I started watching to name one character I was sure I wasn’t going to like, I would have said Cisco three times.
Your honor, I was wrong. And I’m here to admit it. Even Cisco works in The Lincoln Lawyer, and that’s probably the greatest compliment I can give the show.
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The Lincoln Lawyer premieres on Netflix May 13.