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‘Defending Jacob’ (Apple TV+) Review – A Riveting Thriller

7 min read

While Apple TV+ may be trailing behind the rest of the big streaming services, they really do put out some high-quality shows and movies. The Banker, See, Home Before Dark, The Servant, and Mythic Quest are all very entertaining, and The Morning Show is actually my favorite show of all time. Now Defending Jacob isn’t as good as The Morning Show, but it is still one of the best streaming shows I have ever seen. It really does feel like an eight-hour movie thanks to top-notch production levels and director Morten Tyldum, who directs all of the episodes. Chris Evans is outstanding and the whole cast is really phenomenal. Also, the mystery throughout the show is filled with twists and turns that really make it a roller coaster of emotions. But don’t worry, this review does not contain any spoilers.

Even though Defending Jacob is a really good show, it has one huge problem. In fact, its not even a problem with the show itself, but rather how it was released. This show is obviously meant to be binged, however, Apple TV+ released this show weekly. Now I get Apple TV+ doesn’t have a ton of content and they want to make this last as long as possible, but watching this show weekly was torture and clearly not how the show was meant to be viewed. Weekly shows need to have big things happen each week so it’s satisfying, like The Morning Show and The Mandalorian. However, Defending Jacob plays like a bingeable show as each episode is just meant to set up the next and each end on massive cliffhangers. I don’t even like binging shows, but I would have totally watched all these episodes in one sitting. There’s this funny gag that with bingeable shows pretty much the whole season just leads up to the final two episodes, and that’s totally true here as the last two episodes of this show are insane.

Chris Evans, Jaeden Martell, and Michelle Dockery leaving the courthouse.

One of the reasons this show is so captivating is the mystery. The show centers around Andy Barber, a district attorney whose son Jacob Barber, is arrested for killing a fellow classmate. The big question throughout the show is if Jacob killed the boy or not. Usually with mysteries and thrillers, either the outcome is obvious, or the ending comes out of nowhere. But with this show, I honestly had no idea how things were going to play out and the ending is very shocking. Even when the show frustrated me, I never gave up because I just had to know if the son was the true murderer. There are so many twists and turns that for one minute I would think Jacob is innocent, and then the next I was convinced he was the killer. During the final few episodes of this show, I was so on edge that it actually made me sick, and it certainly didn’t help having to wait a week each time.

While the mystery makes Defending Jacob truly captivating, what makes the mystery work are the characters. The show is so riveting and addicting because you genuinely feel bad for these characters and want them to succeed, which makes it scary. Both parents Andy and Laurie Barber are such good people that are caught up in an unthinkable situation. And because the two parents are so normal and relatable, it makes you think what you would do if you were caught up in this situation. Now Jacob Barber, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of his parents. He is extremely unlikable and causes so many problems for his poor parents. Jacob is also very unsympathetic about the murder of his classmate and does some horrific things because of it. Jacob is actually so unlikeable and makes so many decisions that really no one would make, that it’s the one part of the show that’s very unrealistic. For example, he keeps posting horrific things on the internet while on trial for murder, but for some reason, his parents continue to allow him to access the internet, it really makes no sense.

Chris Evans as Andy Barber in Cold Spring Park.

The reason the characters are so good and complex, is in large part because of the actors. The acting in this show is phenomenal with not one bad performance throughout the whole series. Chris Evans is playing Chris Evans, but some actors are just like that and Chris Evans fits really well with his character Andy Barber. He definitely is leading man material as he is the heart of the show and really why you care about what is happening. However, while Evans does a great job at playing himself, Michelle Dockery is unrecognizable and gives an acting tour de force. She is a British actor who is best known for her work on Downton Abbey, but you would never be able to tell here as she perfectly plays a Bostonian. Dockery really is a revelation and I hope casting directors see her work here because again, her performance is a game-changer for her career.

Jaeden Martell as Jacob is some of the best child acting I have ever seen. Normally, famous child stars are really good at being funny and relatable, but here Martell does a great job playing a serious and distant character. Also, J.K Simmons has a role in this show and I would say he gives his best performance since Whiplash, which is really saying something. Simmons plays a very complex character and I can see why he wanted to be in this project because it’s a great role. The rest of the cast also does a fantastic job with standouts being Cherry Jones, Betty Gabriel, and Sakina Jaffrey. Defending Jacob really has movie-level acting across the board, and I hope this show gets recognized during Awards season.

J.K Simmons as Billy Barber.

This show also has top-notch production values when it comes to sets, locations, writing, and directing. The show really does feel like an eight-hour movie, mainly because it has the same director throughout. Normally, a season of a show will have many different directors, but here Morten Tyldum heads up all of the episodes. Because of that, the show flows very well, and it’s even more of an immersive experience. Since the show stars Chris Evans, of course, it takes place in Boston, which I always get a kick out of because that’s where I’m from. And the show doesn’t just feel like it takes place in any typical suburban town, it feels like a Massachusetts town, and maybe its because I am biased but I really like that. The writing is also very well done and because it is a show that has multiple episodes, it feels even more like a book come to life.

Now they say a mystery is only as good as its ending, and while Defending Jacob‘s ending isn’t perfect, it’s strong enough and very shocking. Now I have not read the famous book this is based on, but after I finished the show and did some research, I found out there are some significant changes made, so if you read the book, this show is still worth watching. Now I would say the changes from the book are made to set up a second season, but since this is supposed to be a limited series it doesn’t look like there will be one. I definitely want to see a second season as there are a lot of loose ends that are not tied up by the finale. In my opinion, the perfect limited series was HBO’s Watchmen, which had an amazing ending that tied together the whole series.

Cherry Jones, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, and Chris Evans in the Courtroom.

A large part of Defending Jacob‘s finale almost feels like the beginning of a new season, which I was not expecting but it was certainly interesting. And the finale is certainly shocking, however, it wasn’t cheap. Sometimes endings come out of nowhere in order to just shock the audience, which isn’t very satisfying. While Defending Jacob‘s finale is shocking, it’s not just shock value, but it also makes sense and is set up throughout the show. A good ending is surprising, but it also makes sense once you go back to look at it, and Defending Jacob succeeds at that. I kind of knew what was going to happen and I had my theories, but overall I did like the ending. I do wish more loose ends were tied up with characters and questions I had, but if the show doesn’t continue its a good enough ending.

Overall, Defending Jacob is a great show that made a very stupid mistake. Apple TV+ should not have released the episodes weekly because it was torture as this show is made to be binged. But if you haven’t watched it yet, now is the perfect time because you can watch the full season instead of waiting weekly. The mystery is captivating as the simple question of “Did he do it?” makes this show addicting. All the characters are very complex and they are the reason you care about what is happening. The acting is phenomenal as Chris Evans is a great leading man and Michelle Dockery is a revelation. Jaeden Martell and J.K Simmons also do a great job playing extremely unlikable characters. The ending is strong enough and very shocking, however I do wish they did a better job at tying up loose ends, especially because this is a limited series. This show is so close to being perfect, really just the release format and ending hold it back, but all in all, I would highly recommend this show, even more so now because you can binge it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Have you seen Defending Jacob? If so, what are your thoughts on the show? Let us know in the comments section of our website or on our Twitter & Instagram accounts.

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