THE LINCOLN LAWYER -- A Very Good Adaption of Michael Connelly's Book... Except for One Glaring Problem
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Michael Connelly has created quite the literary empire for himself these days with four different ongoing book series. One of the biggest is The Lincoln Lawyer. If this sounds familiar, it probably is. The Lincoln Lawyer was already turned into a film in 2011, starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller. I love that film and the character and Connelly's books, so I was a bit skeptical about the new series. It was initially supposed to be on CBS before the pandemic got the pilot — and the show — canceled and landed on Netflix.
When the series picks up, Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) sits on a beach with a surfboard, too afraid to go in the water. He had gotten into an accident over a year prior and still can't overcome the obstacle of returning to the water. He has also been out of the practice of being a lawyer since the accident. Out of the blue, he gets a mysterious phone call to come to the chambers of a high-ranking judge in the L.A. county judicial system. She informs him that a lawyer friend of his was killed, and in his will, left Mickey his entire law practice and all of his clients. This is quite the surprise for Mickey, who hasn't practiced law in over a year.
Along with the practice comes a high-priority case involving the murder of a woman and her lover by the woman's husband, a millionaire game developer. This case is of the utmost concern to the client, who wants to go to court and clear his good name of these heinous crimes. Mickey has to get his feet under him first, though. He needs to get the lay of the land. That means bringing his second wife into the fold along with her boyfriend, a trusty investigator for Mickey. The last piece of the puzzle to get things in order is a diver for his trademark Lincolns that he drives/rides in to do a lot of his work.
One of his cases is a burglary of a woman's necklace. He jumps in with both feet, and he helps to clear the name of a young Black woman accused of the crime due to circumstantial evidence. As a method of payment, he offers the woman a job as his driver. She accepts, and now the show has its main characters.
This show is a solid law procedural that shows the ins and outs of how lawyers, judges, and the whole legal system works. Like Connelly's other properties that have been adapted into films or television shows, The Lincoln Lawyer has a great grasp of this entire world. With David E. Kelly involved as executive producer, it makes sense. He has a lot of experience with law shows. His work on L.A. Law and Ally McBeal is some of the best dramatic work involving this genre in television history. He works well with Connelly's L.A.-based lawyer. They both know this city and the world it exists in.
A thing about this show that has thrown me off is that I believe that Mickey Haller has been miscast. The writers shoehorned in a subplot involving Haller's father marrying a Mexican woman before leaving him and returning to Mexico. Later, Mickey returns to L.A. and goes to law school to take after his father. This completely changes the nature of the character. For example, James Bond is a character where race isn't necessary for people to know who and what this character is all about. He has to be suave and debonair and a ladies' man. In contrast, Mickey Haller is definitely an Irish American caucasian man. He isn't Latino in the books, and there is a big difference between these two and how integral this is to who he is as a character. You can't change that, in my opinion.
In the books, Mickey Haller's Irish roots from his father seem to come to the forefront. He drinks excessively and has a slick way with words that allows him to be a lady's man and eloquently express his arguments in court. He's charmingly flawed, in a way. The portrayal in the show wouldn't allow for that. Matthew McConaughey was closer to who and what this character is about from the books. Sure any literary character is up for interpretation, but this character is clear about who he is and what he represents. Focusing on an entirely different backstory changes the nature of the character completely.
That being said, the cast is otherwise very good. These actors embody what I envisioned them to be from reading The Brass Verdict, on which this story is based. The twists and turns that this season has had have been fantastic. Even having read the book and knowing the twists, I was surprised by some of them. Connelly knows how to shock readers with all kinds of great plot twists. The showrunner, Ted Humphrey, captured the essence of what this book was trying to say and pretty much nailed it. Once again, L.A. is fantastically filmed and set as the backdrop of this series. Like Bosch, the show uses L.A. to perfection. It's a great city to set these kinds of shows in. The music in the series was also great.
The Lincoln Lawyer faithfully adapts Connelly's book with only a few necessary changes due to character rights. Kelly, Humphrey, and others fully embrace this world in which the show takes place, and it is fully realized. The cast of actors for the show has been chosen well, all except one. This show is on the same level as other shows about legal proceedings. It gets the whole world it's depicting. The main character of Mickey Haller has traits and mannerisms that make him who he is, and changing his culture did not work. That's the one failing moment for me with this show. As a big fan of the character and the books, I couldn't get past that.
The Lincoln Lawyer streams on Netflix beginning May 13. All ten episodes reviewed.