DOUBT Review: “Pilot”

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I dunno, you guys.

CBS’s new Katherine Heigl court drama show is a little bit, uh… JUST LIKE EVERY COURT DRAMA YOU’VE EVER SEEN. The saving grace is a solid cast which includes Lavern Cox (Orange Is the New Black), Dule Hill (Psych), and Elliot Gould (everything), and it appears Judith Light (Transparent) may be a series regular.

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The first episode opens with Heigl’s character Sadie Ellis biking through New York City on her way to work. When she arrives at court she meets with fellow defense lawyer Albert (Hill) who is watching the DA give an interview on the court steps (why are these things always ON the steps? Go up or down, make a decision) in regards to the upcoming arraignment of of Dr. Billy Brennan for the 1991 murder of his then girlfriend, 16 year-old Amy Meyers. Heigl strips down from her biking gear to reveal a suit underneath. She then ambushes the DA’s interview, despite Albert’s protests that engaging in a public fight with the DA is not a good strategy. Sadie ignores him and tells the cameras that there will be no admission of guilt and Brennan will soon be free.

Brennan, played by Steven Pasquale, who you may recognize from Rescue Me or more recently The People Vs. OJ Simpson as racist cop Mark Fuhrman, is a charming doctor who has a good heart. They lay this on pretty thick early on with mentions of him working with kids, specifically asking for updates on his patients during his ongoing trial, and doing pro bono work around the world. He was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Gramercy Park back in the day but got off because there were no witnesses and no physical evidence. Four months ago however, an old friend named Michael Slater came forward stating that in 1993 (two years after the murder) Brennan admitted he committed the crime to him. Sadie is able to get the judge to set bail for $5 million, which I guess is considered a win for rich ass people.

The DA is “prepared to go to the mats” on this one. They think they have Brennan with a third party corroborating a confession randomly with no clear motivation to lie. However, they offer a plea bargain for two years in jail, which for MURDER sounds pretty damn good. But I guess if you really didn’t do it, then that would suck.

It also becomes clear early on that Sadie and Brennan have a whole thing going. When he makes bail and gets out of jail for the first time in four months, Sadie tells him they need to celebrate, and he needs a cheeseburger. They head out to dinner together, and he showers her with compliments that only a lawyer would love “You fight like most people breathe; it’s your natural state.” Sadie explains most people see injustice and shrug, which gets her riled up just talking about it. He tells her he doesn’t see her as “just his lawyer” and she immediately squashes that, telling him it’s not real. “This happens. People develop feelings for their lawyers.” Uh, isn’t that a patient/doctor thing? Anyway, sure, I can see how it works here, too. But it doesn’t matter because it’s clear she DOES have feelings for him. Brennan then goes on to express how important it is to him to let her know that he did not kill Amy Meyers.

DOUBT stars Katherine Heigl as Sadie Ellis, a brilliant attorney at a boutique firm who starts to fall for her charismatic client, Billy Brennan, an altruistic pediatric surgeon recently accused of murdering his girlfriend 24 years ago. Sadie is hiding her growing feelings from everyone, including her close friend and colleague, Albert Cobb, who thinks he knows everything about her. Premieres Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017on the CBS Television Network. Pictured Steven Pasquale as Billy Brennan and Katherine Heigl as Sadie Ellis Photo: JOJO WHILDEN©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But there are other characters in this universe with their own stories. Elliot Gould plays Isaiah, a famous defense attorney and the leader of this boutique law firm, who we first see being sprung from jail by Sadie and Albert for having called a judge a fascist. There’s Lucy, who Albert continuously refers to as “the worst assistant ever.”

Then there’s defense lawyer Cameron Wirth played by transgender person Laverne Cox. I have to applaud the show’s NOT focusing on the transgender part of her character as THE defining characteristic. She mentions once during the show that she is transgender, but that’s it. A passing moment. Not a big deal. Her storyline involves the trial of the “Subway Pusher” who she is having trouble convincing a jury of his insanity–his medications mellow him out and make him look decidedly sane and unsympathetic. She moves to have her client stop taking the medications, but the judge insists it must be his own choice. When he goes off them, he predictably goes bat-poop insane in the courtroom on the actual witness stand (he barks like a dog) and the story, though not with many surprises, satisfyingly concludes with a Not Guilty due to insanity.

Back to the main storyline, our heroes are trying to get some dirt on Michael Slater, but while he’s been in and out of jail for petty stuff, he has no real motive to fabricate Brennan’s confession. He claims he’s doing it for peace of mind. Sadie and Albert head to Brennan’s mother Margaret’s house, to inquire about some scratches Billy was seen with directly after the murder. Turns out, coincidentally, the cat scratched his face. She says it believably enough, and points out that the victim Amy Meyers didn’t have any skin under her fingernails. As they’re walking away, they remark how Margaret is “one tough lady.”

I’m calling it right now–Margaret did it.

My theory gains even more credibility when it turns out the murder weapon (a SCEPTER, who uses a SCEPTER to murder people with in 1991?) is found with Billy’s blood type on it. He boldly offers to give his own blood up to be tested against that on the weapon. This is even more outrageous because Sadie and co. had just found evidence of a $250k book deal made by Michael Slater with a publisher for a tell-all novel. This gives him enough motive to implicate Brennan when there really was no confession. Everything could get thrown out, but Brennan wants the truth once and for all. And he’s certainly acting bull-headed about it for someone who actually did it.

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Still Isaiah scolds Sadie for letting her love for Brennan cloud her judgment. He says it happened to him too, and Sadie says to leave “her” out of this. We soon see her leaving the city on a bus, and visits a prison. Here we meet Carolyn, a prisoner there, who thirty-two years ago went to jail for murder. And she’s Sadie’s mother. Sadie suggests her mom try crying in front of the parole board and looking remorseful so they will actually get her out of there. Because Sadie needs her mom! She met a boy and it’s screwing up her ! But how can a prisoner mother who left her life when she was two years old be of help? The episode ends with them hugging and Carolyn telling her daughter “You’re amazing,” as music swells and credits come up. Where did this last shot of cheese come from? The episode had MOSTLY avoided it, then tried to pull this Grey’s Anatomy thing.

Overall, despite the mostly strong cast, the show fails to rise above the cliche courtroom genre you’ve already watched a thousand and one times. Perhaps in the coming weeks it can surprise us.

TB-TV-Grade-C+

Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
Doubt airs Wednesday at 9PM on CBS

Read all of our reviews of Doubt here. 
Read our reviews of more of your favorite shows here.


Paul was a defense lawyer at a boutique law firm until he was disbarred for bingeing TV shows on his tablet during trials.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulgulyas
Keep up with all of Paul’s reviews here.

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