Hit or Sh**: CBS’s DOUBT
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
A story’s purpose is always to allow an audience insight into and empathy for the characters, and without strong or engaging characters, no matter how “cool” or “unique” a plot is, the story will inevitably disappoint and the audience will tune out. Alas, CBS’s new show DOUBT unfortunately fails in both respects: it lacks any new or interesting characters and doesn’t even have a strong or intriguing plot to somewhat make up for it. The show’s ability to create drama, under these limitations, necessitates merely throwing some very “dramatic lines” along with some “dramatic music” into the mix, without any substance or purpose. It’s impossible to really care about the fates of these one-dimensional characters, or the twists, turns, and revelations of the story.
Sadie Ellis (Katherine Heigl) and her partner Albert Cobb (Dule Hill) are tasked with defending Billy Brennan, a doctor accused of murdering his high school girlfriend 25 years ago. The plot is not very much unlike many other crime or law procedurals, but this is irrelevant, because the draw for most of these types of shows is the cast and characters. Unfortunately, Sadie’s character is thoroughly unoriginal; she’s a successful, beautiful lawyer with a messy backstory who finds herself falling for the wrong guy. It would be possible for a talented actress to be likable despite these cliches; Katherine Heigl is not that actress. The other characters are either one note or about as deep as a puddle—the only compelling one is Laverne Cox’s Cameron Wirth, but I credit her success only to the actress herself. Cox plays Wirth very well, especially given the fact that she is often bogged down by cheesy dialogue and poor writing. An important triumph of DOUBT, however, is that her character is not any kind of transgender stereotype or overstated “diversity quota” filler, and could have been played by any other actor or actress on the planet. I hope that this is a positive step towards the future, although hopefully it will be a future in which these kinds of characters aren’t only found on dumb CBS procedurals.
A beautiful, angelic role model for children everywhere
However, out of this entire mess of a cast, the worst is definitely Sadie’s client-slash-love interest Billy Brennan. With the acting chops of a log, Steven Pasquale plays Brennan with zero depth and somehow even less compassion—and he ultimately dooms the show. How can I believe that he somehow has feelings for Sadie, if the whole time he comes off as aloof and arrogant? And although he is written as a generous and kind man, Pasquale gives off absolutely no sense of this compassion whatsoever. It’s impossible to buy into the main premise and emotional core of DOUBT if I simply do not care about either lead and do not believe that they could possibly be in love. The only time I really laughed out loud was when Sadie told her mother that Brennan is “kind and smart and funny,” yet the man looks as though he has no funny bone in his body and not a single joke has escaped his mouth throughout the entire episode.
Pictured: A significantly better actor than Steven Pasquale
While Katherine Heigl ogles her unamusing beau, Laverne Cox’s character Cameron fights to defend her client under a plea for insanity. The two storylines in this pilot actually have nothing to do with each other, besides the fact that all the lawyers involved are from the same firm, headed by Elliot Gould’s Isaiah Roth. Yes, this storyline at least provides a conclusion compared to the obvious long arc of the Brennan case, which likely won’t resolve until the end of the season or beyond. However, this “insane murderer” subplot was an unnecessary and confusing side dish, distracting from the messy main entree of the meal (the Brennan case). As a whole, the episode itself felt about 30 minutes too long, as many of the scenes seemed useless apart from creating some semblance of a romance or conflict between the two “lovebird” leads.
The acting and initial character development in DOUBT are both desperately in need of work. The jokes continuously fall flat and the dialogue almost always feels staged and over-dramatized. The cheesy, on-the-nose “dramatic” music brings much more attention to itself than it should, and actually somehow makes each scene feel even less emotional or exciting. Unsurprisingly, DOUBT does not impress, and for the future, CBS would do well to at least give their predictable lawyer shows a cast of interesting and likable characters.
DOUBT airs on Wednesdays on CBS