TV Review: AppleTV+ series Defending Jacob starring Chris Evans

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

TV Review, Apple TV Plus, Apple, review, Defending Jacob, Morten Tyldum, Chris Evans, Jacob Martell, Michelle Dockery, Crime, Drama, mystery

Plot: A family’s lives are irreparably disrupted when the son is accused of murdering a fellow classmate in this dramatic legal thriller. 

TV Review, Apple TV Plus, Apple, review, Defending Jacob, Morten Tyldum, Chris Evans, Jacob Martell, Michelle Dockery, Crime, Drama, mystery

Review: After Chris Evans' departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, expectations were high as the actor promised a more diverse range of projects on the horizon. While KNIVES OUT was certainly different from AVENGERS: ENDGAME, Evans' first foray into television with Defending Jacob seemed to be the true test of where he was taking his talents. Based on the bestselling novel by William Landay and with a cast that includes Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell, Defending Jacob looked like a twisty thriller that would appeal to fans of GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And, much like those aforementioned thrillers, Defending Jacob gives us a mystery that hits all of the right notes, they just happen to be notes we have heard countless times before.

Directed by Morten Tyldum (THE IMITATION GAME, PASSENGERS) and scripted by Mark Bomback (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES), Defending Jacob starts out by showing us a Massachussets suburb populated by upper class families who are rocked by the murder of a teenager. It quickly becomes apparent that Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is the prime suspect despite his District Attorney father, Andy Barber (Chris Evans) refusing to believe it. What follows flashes back between Andy on the stand relaying the events of what transpired following the murder and the audience seeing the events unfold on screen.

So much of Defending Jacob relies on the morbid curiosity of the viewer that you may find yourself coming back episode by episode just to find out whether Jacob actually is a murderer. The payoff does arrive and I won't spoil it for you here, but you may enjoy this story as it unfolds, but after completing it, I reflect and find that not only was it not worth eight hours of my time but it was infinitely forgettable. Chris Evans is a very adept actor but even he is hard to believe as the father of a teenager. So many scenes between him and Jaeden Martell feel forced and lack any sort of chemistry that you will find the most incredulous thing about this series is that these three people are actually a family.

Defending Jacob is well directed and the eight episode limited series has a definite cinematic quality. Plus, Chris Evans' beard is the stuff of legend. Both Evans and Dockery are good and Jaeden Martell has a lot more to do here than he did in KNIVES OUT, but Defending Jacob is just too bland for it's own good. That blandness extends from both the narrative and the visuals as the series wastes Tyldum's talents as a filmmaker by giving us muted grays and some scenes so dark that I had to increase the brightness on my display just to see what was going on. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this series but with the promise of the cast there should have been a lot more to dig into. From supporting performances from Cherry Jones, Pablo Schrieber and J.K. Simmons, so many good actors appear on screen and yet don't do anything we haven't seen countless times before and even on AppleTV+ in their podcast crime series Truth Be Told.

TV Review, Apple TV Plus, Apple, review, Defending Jacob, Morten Tyldum, Chris Evans, Jacob Martell, Michelle Dockery, Crime, Drama, mystery

There are some valid themes at play in this story including cyber-bullying and how it impacts teenagers. I also found a scene involving a school lockdown to be almost as disturbing as the crimes on display, but they are marred by the clear directive for these AppleTV+ shows to present as many shots and uses for Apple products as possible. We see people using iMessage, AirPods, and posting on social media using iPhones and nothing about it is subtle in the least. But the biggest failure here is making these spoiled teenagers and families seem remotely relatable. You could look past the expensive cars and huge houses and try to connect on a human level, but there is a level of entitlement here that challenges even the most robust suspension of disbelief.

As a story, Defending Jacob is familiar and borders on cliche and is done a disservice by wasting Chris Evans' celebrity on such an unoriginal tale. Evans does what he can here but remains miscast. If anyone is not familiar with the source novel, they may find their jaws slightly agape when the final episode's credits roll, but I have a feeling that in hindsight this will be a series few will be talking about in the years to come. If you have run out of shows to watch, you may find yourself drawn to Defending Jacob, but I would encourage you to wait until all eight episodes have premiered and binge it to save yourself two months of anticipation.

Defending Jacob premieres April 24th on AppleTV+.

Defending Jacob



About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.