Hulu’s Reasonable Doubt is unlike any of those before it. It’s addictive, it’s sexy but most importantly it’s scandalous. Many will compare it to Scandal not only because it features a Black lawyer front and centre, which is still rare but also because a few of Scandal’s production team is at the helm. Including Scandal’s leading lady Kerry Washington as an executive producer and director on the series.
Reasonable Doubt features Emayatzy Corinealdi, best known for her work in Ava DuVernay’s film Middle of Nowhere, as defense attorney Jax Stewart. Jax is successful in career and less successful at home as she battles a separation with her husband Lewis (McKinley Freeman) and her challenging relationship with her children as a result of the separation. Formerly a public defender with an aim to fight racial inequalities in American criminal justice system, Jax has shifted into the world of private law as a high-profile criminal defense lawyer in LA.
Her current case sees her defending wealthy Black entrepreneur Brayden Miller, played by Save the Last Dance and barbershop’s Sean Patrick Thomas. We see Jax take on his case when his initial case of sexual assault allegations from a senior executive in his company with whom he was having an affair with, changes to a murder charge pertaining to the same woman. And if that wasn’t scandalous enough, the show also contains Hollywood’s bad boy and heartthrob Michael Ealy as Damon, a man who has fiery chemistry with Jax but when we meet him is in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Damon plays on the questionable ethics inherent in Jax’s personality that sees her attracted to danger and just being bad.
When we meet Jax at the beginning of episode one she is tied to a chair speaking an affirmative, praying and pleading for her life while having a gun pointed at her. All while wearing some red bottom heels which is very much in line with her killer persona. When we hear the gun go off we are transported to six months earlier where Jax is in bed about to get up to go to church. It’s at this point we are introduced the life of a lawyer which sees no days off. We see Jax navigate a harassment case for her client while at church. What makes the first two episodes really powerful for building Jax’s character is the fact she openly states how she knows her clients aren’t good people and she’s happy to get her hands dirty for them. There is no limit to what Jax will do to win. It sees opposition criticise her for going against the community and failing to stand up for and by women who’ve accused powerful men of sexual assault. The first episode slowly builds us up to the bombshell of an ending in which we realise that the twists and turns that this series issues is something we are not ready for.
Watching Jax tear down a case within the first four minutes of the show gives a great level of satisfaction but what is more satisfying is the way she navigates her work life and is not afraid to say what she thinks. In the office meeting where they are talking about setting up a meeting with Brayden Miller, she brings some good ideas to the table including reducing the amount of staff going to the initial meeting to which one of her colleagues comments “That’s why she gets paid the big buck” to which she quickly comes back saying “oh could be bigger.” The comedic elements despite being far between not only add a moment of light hearted relief but they also have deeper meaning as their feels to bean underlying message that she is not getting paid as much as her colleagues.
Moreover Jax is not afraid to ask the important questions in meetings with clients to ascertain the truth. When speaking with Brayden he dislikes her for asking the tough questions which make her a good lawyer such as why he doesn’t have a good relationship with his ex-mistress now accuser. Her quick quips are unmatched for making the show feel lighter despite discussing harsh topics.
The script gifted to Corinealdi for the role of Jax is sublime it allows for her to develop lawyers to a character who could just be flawed but instead has reasons behind them that we only start to discover in the first two episodes. She is sensuous as well as funny, cutthroat as well as caring.
Her moments with her girlfriends, played by Tiffany Yvonne Cox, Nefetari Spencer and Shannon Kane are once again light-hearted moments that remind us of Jax’s humanity despite her killer lawyer persona. It also reminds us of the joy of female friendships in a complicated and stressful life. Something most people can relate with. With each interaction that we see Jax experience, whether with her husband, friends, love interest or work colleagues, we get a different side to Jax and a different side to Corinealdi as an actor.
If you like danger and a fearless lawyer with questionable ethics and wild interpretations of the law then this is the show for you. As Jax creates smoke wherever she goes and while it’s yet to be seen if she puts the fires out, the drama we see on the way there is tantalising. While we see moments of similarity to ourselves in Jax, for the most part there is none. The life she lives is unlike any other.
Her separation from her husband is complex and while initially you blame Jax’s character for it, this is a show that teaches you in life it takes two to tango. As Lewis keeps cameras installed around their house, which only Jax lives at currently and Lewis isn’t shy about watching her entertain male company. Nor is she shy about him watching. But it’s Jax who perfects the tango as she embraces the fact she’s a hot mess and a woman choosing between multiple different men because as she says “I love criminals.” But what this show does well is it doesn’t shame Jax for embracing her sensuality rather it encourages it and gives Black women the freedom to take pleasure in well… their own pleasure.
The show is dark and dramatic but it’s also funny when it needs to be. It shows a reflection of the journey Jax has been on as we see her navigate the white world of private law and the emotional distance, she needs to maintain in order to survive and win those cases. This contrasts to the previous life she lived as a public defender where flashbacks show her emotionally attached to her cases. Her language may seem unbecoming for a lawyer, as she refers to an alleged victim who has suffered harassment by one of her clients as an “IG thot” but it’s honest and real. Jax doesn’t mince her words, she’s a force to be reckoned with and that’s what makes her as a lead character an interesting protagonist to lead our journey in this story.
There is plenty of drama to go around for the shows eight episodes, which is created by former Scandal and Little Fires Everywhere writer and producer Raamla Mohamed who we’re sure has helped maintained the addictive nature of the series. While the show is an Onyx Collective – a new content brand within Disney to boost underrepresented voices – and Hulu original, Jax’s character is loosely based on Shawn Holley, the Los Angeles attorney who was a member of O.J. Simpson’s defense. Holley also serves as an executive producer on the series.
Reasonable Doubt is a showcase of Black excellence from the top to the bottom. While it may feel in areas like something you’ve seen before, Reasonable Doubt shows a new depth to all the actors involved and the legal drama genre as it showcases someone who utilises their flaws to their advantage.
The chemistry between Corinealdi and Early is fiery and has us itching to see Jax explore the wrongness that their what seems inevitable partnership will bring. But what will be interesting to see is how Jax’s love life is handled as the series progresses. It challenges the perceptions people have of the Black community not just in a professional perspective but also a personal one. While there are similarities to Scandal as Jax Stewart ends her day with a cigarette instead of a glass of wine like Olivia Pope. This is not Scandal, Jax Stewart is in no way another Olivia Pope or even a Jessica Pearson because she owns her flaws wholeheartedly and her flaws are what make her win.
Overall, Reasonable Doubt is a great watch with a cast that is what dreams are made of. If you’re a Scandal fan or can’t resist a legal drama this is one you’ll definitely want to watch.
Reasonable Doubt premieres September 27 on Hulu with its first two episodes, and stream episodes weekly thereafter.