This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until the day after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Are You Certain You Should Watch Doubt?
Katherine Heigl, Laverne Cox, and half of Broadway want you to love this legal drama.
What Is This Thing?
There's this law firm run by Isaiah Roth, a lawyer who made his name defending the Black Panthers and who still has a reputation for defending the downtrodden. He also loves a woman who's in prison for accidentally killing someone decades ago during a social action. As part of that love, he's raised her daughter Sadie as his own.
And guess what? Sadie is a hotshot lawyer in his firm! She's a no-nonsense gal who's not afraid to yell at her client and get passionate in court, but she's also so quirky that she rides a bicycle to work, changes into her good shoes right there on the street, and keeps emergency ice cream sandwiches stashed around the office.
Sadie's sass is reflected by her co-workers, who are willing to debate the merits of Hamilton or do goofy things like fall asleep in the office amid a pile of empty take-out boxes.
But are any of these people ready for ROMANCE? Sadie's fellow attorneys can't seem to stay in relationships -- one guy even forgets where he tied up his puppy! -- but Sadies' got an especially complicated love life: she digs this cute doctor named Billy Brennan, but he's also her client. And he's on trial for murder. And he maybe did it! With any luck, she'll sort this mess out by the end of the first season, or by the end of that big box of ice cream sandwiches.
When Is It On?
Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on CBS, beginning February 15.
Why Was It Made Now?
It was meant to debut last season, in fact, with KaDee Strickland as Sadie and Teddy Sears as Billy. Then the network demanded an overhaul, and Katherine Heigl and Steven Pasquale took over the lead roles. So clearly, somebody at CBS believes this lady lawyer dramedy has the potential to (a) fill the void left on broadcast TV by The Good Wife (with The Good Fight filling it on CBS's streaming service CBS All Access, starting soon!); (b) capture some of that funny-serious courtroom magic David E. Kelley created for a while; and (c) scoop up all those Katherine Heigl fans who are tired of waiting for 27 Dresses 2: 28 Dresses.
What's Its Pedigree?
Series creators Joan Rater and Tony Phelan know from lady dramas: they worked on Grey's Anatomy for years and also consulted on Madam Secretary. Along with Heigl and Pasquale (who is currently one of the best male performers on Broadway), the cast includes Elliot Gould as Roth, my beloved Judith Light as Sadie's mom, Laverne Cox as Sadie's co-worker, and Dulé Hill as her other co-worker. And then there's Dreama Walker, late of Don't Trust the Bitch..., as a junior associate at the firm.
I've watched two episodes, and I genuinely laughed once or twice. That might sound like an insult, but it was more than I expected from a CBS midseason legal show. Both of those laughs came courtesy of Heigl, who I find charming and convincing in this role. I realize she has a mixed reputation, but since the only thing I've seen her in is Steven Soderbergh's underrated early '90s film King Of The Hill, I had no preconceptions going in.
Along with some good jokes, I'll also give the show credit for trying to have sincere conversations about left-leaning politics. Every character is struggling to do some kind of good in the world, and their conceptions of justice are all focused on protecting the oppressed. In the first two episodes alone, we're treated to storylines that touch on ageism, institutionalized racism, and the morality of politically motivated violence.
The show also deserves credit for writing Cox's character, Cameron Wirth, as a trans woman: this makes Cox the first trans performer to play a series regular trans character in a broadcast series.* She's hardly the first trans performer to get a job -- she has an Emmy nomination for Orange Is The New Black -- but the fact that she's on a show like this, on a network like CBS, playing a character whose gender identity is not the entire point of her storyline, feels like progress. Often, shows with underrepresented characters will fixate on that otherness -- even This Is Us, which I love, can't let Kate be anything other than "the sensitive fat woman" -- so I give credit to Doubt for avoiding that pitfall.
Meanwhile, the series is apparently going to have a leitmotif of Broadway. There's that Hamilton discussion I mentioned, which is shot outside the Richard Rodgers theatre. And in the first episode alone, there are seven guest spots played by theatre people, including Donna Murphy, Ann Harada, and Bill Irwin. Toss in Pasquale and Hill (the latter of whom was amazing in a musical he did a few years ago) and we've got to assume a musical episode is coming within three weeks. (I'd be fine with that.)
Before they get to song and dance, though, the writers really need to stop insulting their audience. So far, the dialogue is so, SO terrible that I can't even laugh at it. Most lines are meant to bluntly explain something to the audience, even if that means the characters themselves don't speak like human beings. At one point, for instance, Sadie is arguing with someone about how she's handling Billy's defense. "Are you still mad about my decision to volunteer Billy's DNA?" she snips, as though he might not remember that she did that.
Not all the lines are like that. Some of them are bad in other ways, like when Billy says he wants to have his blood tested. "I want to prove to everyone that I'm innocent," he proclaims. "And not with a hair strand or a cheek swab. I want there to be no doubt. I want to give my blood." Because the DNA in your blood is different from the DNA in your mouth? God bless Steven Pasquale for making this sound halfway believable.
Not everyone is up to his level, however. Several of the actors -- including Cox, whom I have loved in other things -- can't get their mouths around this tripe, and they end up stiffer than the cocktails the partners drink in their Generic Lawyer Bar.
I'm going to stick around for a few more episodes, in hopes that the sparks of originality and intelligence flame up after all the exposition is out of the way. But the clock is ticking. If Doubt doesn't get a significant quality bump, it'll be just another chintzy lawyer show, and no amount of ice cream sandwiches can make that seem tasty.