The Lincoln Lawyer is a bloated legal drama that belongs in the early aughts

The Lincoln Lawyer is a bloated legal drama that belongs in the early aughts

Neve Campbell and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in The Lincoln Lawyer
Photo: Lara Solanki/Netflix

Netflix’s The Lincoln Lawyer will scratch the itch for anyone unexplainably hankering for a tedious, low-stakes legal drama. Created by David E. Kelley, who plans to wring out his affinity for the genre to no end, it’s meant to be reminiscent of his early work like The Practice or Ally McBeal. Except in 2022, it just feels incredibly dated, like it should’ve aired on network TV in the aughts. The show’s diverse main lead aside, it offers nothing fresh or incisive. It’s not Boston Legal-level fun or entertaining, nor does it boast a seriously spectacular performance like Billy Bob Thornton in Goliath.

To confirm: Those examples above are also Kelley-helmed legal dramas. And you can only beat that drum so many times before it comes crashing down with a thud. Enter said thud: The Lincoln Lawyer. Unlike the title suggests, the series isn’t based on Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel of the same name (which is, in fact, the inspiration for Matthew McConaughey’s spry and engaging 2011 film). Netflix’s adaptation is based on the book’s sequel, The Brass Verdict, but it squeezes in some stories from Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer as well. If all of this is already unnecessarily convoluted, wait until you press play. It gets worse.

The show stretches for 10 long episodes and doesn’t merit its lengthy runtime. On several occasions, the thin plotline transcends into a class that should be called “How To Win A Case 101,” complete with a boring lesson on legal jargon. Despite his oeuvre, Kelley fails to make The Lincoln Lawyer interesting, both in and out of the courtroom. Led by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, most of the cast is capable, but not enough to turn poor writing around. Sincerest apologies to the actors involved—especially Scream queen Neve Campbell—who get stuck with having to deliver shoddy dialogue from the start.

Garcia-Rulfo plays slick defense attorney Mickey Haller, who returns to work after a yearlong hiatus because of an accident and subsequent addiction. The actor starts off slightly stoic but eventually settles into the role of a charming lawyer, which at least sells the show’s thesis. Mickey immediately begins working out of his car—a Lincoln, of course—because the guy can “think” better while in the backseat and on the road, or something of the sort, and hires a new driver named Izzy (Jazz Raycole). He inherits the intense caseload of a deceased colleague, including a high-profile murder trial.

Mickey now represents Trevor Elliott (Christopher Gorham), a video game developer and tech billionaire accused of killing his wife and her secret lover. But he’s adamant about his innocence. The Lincoln Lawyer focuses on other cases Mickey handles, along with part of his personal life, but the Elliott saga is the through line. It’s unfortunate because even if audiences haven’t read The Brass Verdict, this arc is predictable and drags on, with momentous twists coming in at the final hour to no one’s surprise. Gorham’s wooden performance also lends little value to the air of mystery supposedly surrounding his character.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Jazz Raycole in The Lincoln Lawyer
Photo: Lara Solanki/Netflix

Meanwhile, Mickey gets assistance from his spunky case manager, Lorna (Becki Newton, a treasure who deserves much better material). Oh, she’s also his second ex-wife and is conveniently named so on his phone. If that wasn’t obvious enough, the initial exchange after he answers the call is him saying, “You’re not my wife anymore.” The Lincoln Lawyer loves to beat viewers over the head with its clumsy, redundant writing. Lorna is now dating Mickey’s researcher, Cisco (Angus Sampson), while yearning to be a lawyer herself.

And then there’s Maggie McPherson (Campbell), Mickey’s first wife and clearly the one that got away. She’s a prosecutor forming a major case against a Filipino gang lord and human trafficker, and at times seeks her ex-husband’s aid despite their opposing views on the law. Mickey struggles to win back Maggie’s trust while sharing custody of their teen daughter, Hayley (Krista Warner). If anyone thinks Mickey working with a former lover while desperately pining over Maggie might lead to juicy or even romantic situations, think again. Like the rest of the show, all the love stories are dreadfully unremarkable. But to Campbell’s credit, she’s something of a scene-stealer.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Becki Newton, and Neve Campbell in The Lincoln Lawyer
Photo: Lara Solanki/Netflix

In lieu of breaking the fourth wall, The Lincoln Lawyer makes an extremely bizarre choice to have Mickey egregiously explain legal terms and situations. He’s often and randomly shown riding around with Izzy on an empty highway under an orange haze; she questions him on the importance of things like opening and closing statements. It’s an odd way for him to then launch into a whole spiel about those issues and puts the audience’s intelligence under serious doubt. Episode five, “Twelve Lemmings In A Box,” is almost entirely devoted to the jury selection process. It’s an odd move that takes viewers completely away from the story at hand.

The Lincoln Lawyer has crumbs of compelling drama. As Mickey and Maggie’s professional journeys start to collide in the second half, the show finally levels up its intrigue. But those planted seeds really go nowhere by the end. Several subplots, including one with Cisco and his former bike gang, occupy real estate with zero payoffs. Garcia-Rulfo, Newton, and Campbell try their hardest, but the show isn’t worthy of their talents (or even a continuation). For ongoing and thrilling legal dramas, Better Call Saul and The Good Fight might be the way to go. As for The Lincoln Lawyer, its best use is perhaps as background noise.

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