If you follow BOLO Books, you no doubt saw the list of my favorite novels from each year of the last decade. On that list, Defending Jacob by William Landay held the top spot for 2012. This is one of those books where I can still describe virtually every twist and turn the plot took, even eight years later. It is one of those domestic suspense narratives that make readers wonder why no one thought of it before and which writers working after its publication hope to emulate. Now, that story has come to televisions everywhere – well, at least those that subscribe to Apple+ TV – in a high-profile, multi-part adaptation. Like the novel, this adaptation succeeds on just about every level and will surely satisfy most viewers.
The Apple+ TV version of Defending Jacob remains faithful to Landay’s novel, with the most noticeable changes appearing towards the end of the production. In many ways, those changes only enhance the discussion-worthy aspects that made the novel a favorite with book clubs across the world.
The Barber Family are the central characters, with Michelle Dockery and Chris Evans playing parents to Jaeden Martell’s Jacob. Andy Barber is an Assistant District Attorney in Boston and his wife Laurie works at a center for troubled children. When one of Jacob’s classmates is found murdered in a local park, the police focus in on Jacob as the culprit. As the Barber Family’s world is torn apart, viewers watch as the community that surrounds them react in differing ways. All three of the lead actors turn in credible performances, each having their own strengths. Martell’s Jacob is a sullen child who is impossible to read but easy to care about. Michelle Dockery leaves Lady Mary (from Downton Abbey) behind with what is probably the most complex emotional journey of the series. And Chris Evans proves that he is much more than just a pretty face, good body, and a superhero ideal with this flawed character who’s main focus will always be his family, even as he makes repeated missteps along the way.
Apple+ TV did not skimp on the supporting players either. One of our nation’s finest actresses, Cherry Jones, plays Jacob’s attorney. Always an activist for the LGBTQ+ community, her character’s brief reference to her wife did not go unnoticed, even though it had little baring on the show’s plot. It’s hard to imagine a more consistently excellent actor than J. K. Simmons and here he gives one of his darkest portrayals. His actual role would constitute a spoiler, so nothing more will be said. Sakina Jaffrey, Betty Gabriel, Jordan Alexa Davis, and Pablo Schreiber all turn in excellent performances, with the former three adding much-appreciated diversity to this cast.
Defending Jacob is one of the plot-lines that can be debated for hours after each episode and most especially after the final reveal(s). My own personal thoughts didn’t change much from my initial impressions after finishing the novel, but it was interesting to see everything brought to life on the screen. I have no idea if Apple+ TV will continue to choose such worthy source material, but this is a very promising start to this new streaming service.
For those not looking to add another streaming service, Apple+ TV does offer a one week free trial, which is plenty of time to watch the eight episodes of Defending Jacob.