The Spool / Reviews
Presumed Innocent guilty of being a strong legal thriller
The second adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel strips away some of the story’s complications for a deeper character study of Jake Gyllenhaal’s protagonist.
NetworkApple TV+
SimilarA Native of Beijing in New York, Agatha Christie's Poirot Best Choice Ever, Cold Courage, Deadly Class, Dexter East of Eden, Game of Thrones, Genesis, Gossip Girl He's Into Her, Kiss Me First, Mayfair Witches, My Ride, Pandora's Clock, Polisen i Strömstad, Rebus, Shining Girls, Soul Land, Sweet Magnolias, Tamas, The Bourne Identity, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Wycliffe,
Watch afterBand of Brothers, Breaking Bad Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dark, Game of Thrones Money Heist Squid Game Stranger Things The Acolyte, The Big Bang Theory, The Mandalorian The Simpsons The Witcher Wednesday
StudioBad Robot, Warner Bros. Television
8.5
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For a large segment of Gen X and Millennials, legal thrillers have an undeniable comfort food quality. These generational cohorts grew up as authors like Scott Turow and John Grisham rose to prominence, dominating best-seller lists. With that beachhead established, it wasn’t long before the legal thriller came to screens, large and small, via adaptations. While rarely deeply prestigious works, many, if not most, boasted big stars, well-established directors, and compelling enough storytelling.

Presumed Innocent, an 8-part limited series—Apple provided critics with all but the final installment—arrives with that wind at its back for a considerable portion of the audience. It is further helped in the comfort department by being the second adaptation of the titular novel by Turow, following a well-regarded Alan Pakula-directed Harrison Ford-starring cinematic turn in 1990. The book also spawned a sequel and a made-for-TV adaptation of that sequel.

Presumed Innocent (AppleTV+)
Uh-oh. Jake Gyllenhaal and (Renate Reinsve) just spotted you across the bar. (AppleTV+)

No one can accuse Turow’s Rusty Sabich (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal after Ford on the silver screen and Bill Pullman for the at-home audiences) of being the central star of a law and order-driven MCU. However, when it comes to legal thrillers, he’s about as close as you can get. Playing with that house money, creator David E. Kelley and star Gyllenhaal don’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Nonetheless, they offer a solid series to slip into just as summer kicks in.

Sabich is a Chicago prosecutor already contemplating a life outside civil service. His boss, Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp), is facing a tough election against one of his own, Nico Della Guardia (played with considerable calm slickness by O-T Fagbenle). If Della Guardia is the victor, Sabich knows his role as unofficial right-hand man to the District Attorney will go to Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard, really leaning into his capacity for unctuousness). Then, their colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) is found murdered. The crime is both shocking for its brutality and its resemblance to an earlier case that she and Sabich prosecuted. When Horgan asks Sabich to take lead, our protagonist accepts without disclosing his relationship to Polhemus was far more than professional. It does not spoil anything to reveal this proves a poor choice.

Presumed Innocent (AppleTV+)
O-T Fagbenle and Peter Sarsgaard aren’t mad. They’re just disappointed. (AppleTV+)

Besides his reputation, Sabich’s family life catches the most impact. His wife Barbara (Ruth Negga, absolutely pulsating with unhealed wounds and barely tamped down anger) knew about him and his colleague, but only via a sanitized version of the truth. His children— Jaden (Chase Infiniti) and Kyle (Kingston Rumi Southwick)—on the other hand, seem blindsided. The family’s struggles only increase as his former colleagues and the press reveal Sabich’s larger and ever more numerous peccadilloes.

Presumed Innocent’s story is well-constructed by Kelley and his team, including writers Miki Johnson and Sharr White. It neither lags nor rushes, although the final episode does seem to have a lot of ground to cover, depending on how faithful it stays to the novel. Already, the adaptation makes several changes from the source material and the Pakula film, none of which feel especially devastating to the story’s heart. In the case of a couple of crucial modifications regarding the victim, the changes give her a welcome complexity while giving her back some dignity.

Presumed Innocent (AppleTV+)
Bill Camp forgot the first rule of arguing in law. Never let Elizabeth Marvel get the high ground. (AppleTV+)

The cost of the changes is present primarily in the thriller aspect. Gyllenhaal brings plenty of intensity to Sabich, arguably more than Ford, but the story feels less propulsive, more deliberate. Part of this is undoubtedly length—nearly eight hours v. just over two—but that doesn’t fully account for it. This interpretation of Presumed Innocent focuses more on Sabich and his family than on harrowing attempts to find or conceal evidence, allies’ double-crossing, and criminal conspiracies. Kelley has chosen a more inward-looking approach to telling this story.

There are some fireworks in the courtroom. Unfortunately, they spring from arguably the worst choice this adaptation makes—the elimination of Sandy Stern as Sabich’s defense attorney. What the story does instead is melodramatic and over the top. That makes for a strange, disappointing juxtaposition with the rest of the series. It suggests a lack of conviction, like Kelley and Co. wanted to tell a quieter, more character-driven version of Presumed Innocent but got a touch of cold feet. As a result, the courtroom scenes end up being some of the weaker bits despite both Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard pouring plenty of capital-A Acting into them.

Ruth Negga (AppleTV+)
Ruth Negga is waiting for the other shoe to drop. (AppleTV+)

Directors Greg Yaitanes and Anne Sewitsky, and cinematographers Doug Emmett and Daniel Voldheim give Presumed Innocent a suitably claustrophobic feel. At times, the courtroom feels almost as closed in as the shed where the exiled Sabich spends most of his time at home. The framing of the encounters between Gyllenhaal and Reinsve stands out, as well. The tone and tenor of the flashbacks to their trysts and arguments subtly modulate over time. They reflect the audience’s growing knowledge of the truth and Sabich’s evolving perspective on his own behaviors. However, from jump, the scenes always carry a mix of both the excitement of the illicit and a hint that the situations are just on the edge of going wrong in some vague but undoubtedly dark way.

That attention to not just plot, but the emotions underneath elevates Presumed Innocent above junk food television. It’s still solidly in the realm of comfort food television. As enacted by Negga, Camp, Sarsgaard, Gyllenhaal, and more, it’s comfort food that goes down easy, with no regrets.

Presumed Innocent takes the stand on AppleTV+ beginning June 12.

Presumed Innocent Trailer

NetworkApple TV+
SimilarA Native of Beijing in New York, Agatha Christie's Poirot Best Choice Ever, Cold Courage, Deadly Class, Dexter East of Eden, Game of Thrones, Genesis, Gossip Girl He's Into Her, Kiss Me First, Mayfair Witches, My Ride, Pandora's Clock, Polisen i Strömstad, Rebus, Shining Girls, Soul Land, Sweet Magnolias, Tamas, The Bourne Identity, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Wycliffe,
Watch afterBand of Brothers, Breaking Bad Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dark, Game of Thrones Money Heist Squid Game Stranger Things The Acolyte, The Big Bang Theory, The Mandalorian The Simpsons The Witcher Wednesday
StudioBad Robot, Warner Bros. Television