Stumbling through 2020, we've learned to take pleasure and comfort where we can.
Against that backdrop, viewers hankering for original, high-quality TV will welcome Bryan Cranston's return to series television as a dark and delightful holiday gift.
Seven years after the shattering finale of Breaking Bad, Cranston is executive-producing and starring in the limited series Your Honor, now airing on Showtime.
Set in New Orleans, it's the story of a widowed middle-aged judge, Michael Desiato (Cranston), whose son, Adam (Hunter Doohan), flees the scene of a hit-and-run. When he later tells his father, Michael commands him to report the accident, which killed a young motorcyclist. But Michael fatefully reverses course and orders Adam to clam up when he learns that the father of the dead teen is a ruthless local crime boss (Michael Stuhlbarg).
In short order, an act of omission metastasizes into a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole. Despite increasingly active measures — lying, tampering with and even destroying evidence — Michael sinks deeper and deeper into accessory-after-the-fact criminality.
Cranston was intrigued by the story's central dilemma. "How far would you go to save the life of your child? What would you do?" he asks. "I think there is a lot of leeway there: would you become a criminal? Yes, I would. Well, how much of a criminal would you become?
"Michael has to reverse-engineer the accident and think like a criminal, which he knows something about," Cranston explains. "In his impulsive decision, he didn't think about the ramifications — he couldn't think clearly about what he would eventually have to do to keep this endeavor going, to keep his son alive."
In the process, a perverse, delicious role reversal takes shape: the judge becomes an outlaw and the mob kingpin a victim with the law on his side — though his plans for justice will be of the decidedly extrajudicial variety.
Cranston is holding forth from the Big Easy while shooting the final two episodes of the 10-part series, production having resumed after a six-month COVID hiatus. He is himself a survivor, following an infection in the spring that seemed relatively mild but has compromised his senses of taste and smell.
Like many, he did a lot of reading and a lot of movie-watching, and he found comfort in baking bread, a refreshing contrast to his job. "In my 41 years of being an actor, the work's been imprecise, meaning that I have to create my own initiative, my own drive, my own schedule and keep pushing on my own. But sometimes it's nice just to follow instructions."
As a result, he says, "I make a pretty killer sourdough now."
Cranston's been killing it on set as well, reports Peter Moffat, showrunner, cowriter and an executive producer of Your Honor. The role requires Cranston to convey a mind under constant duress, burdened with guilt and fear, and vigilant against retribution by both the legal system and the criminal underworld.
"He has such a gift for showing me what he's thinking," Moffat says of his star. "I knew I was going to be asking him to show us that his character is thinking four or five things at the same time — that he might be lying, or pretending to lie, or bluffing while supposedly telling us what he's thinking, or maybe telling us what he really is thinking. All of those elements are present at particular moments, which is a huge ask of an actor.
"It's been a tremendous process and a genuine help to me as a writer to have an actor thinking that intelligently about what he's doing — about what I'm doing. I've been so fortunate to have him as my main man."
What's more, in Cranston, Moffat sees Michael's essential decency. "I feel like he's a good man — that's what comes off him. So I could absolutely picture him as a good, liberal judge. He's principled, and he has a moral map that he lives by."
Sound familiar? That's because Your Honor provides viewers with both a thrilling new journey and that tickling sense of watching a beloved actor do what he does best. ...
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This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 12, 2020