The 10-part Netflix original series “The Lincoln Lawyer” is set in the present day, and the title character is indeed an attorney, but it has the comfort-viewing vibe of the classic hourlong cop and private-eye dramas of the 1970s and 1980s, e.g., “The Rockford Files,” “McCloud,” “Magnum, P.I.” and “Baretta.” It contains many of the familiar elements and characters from those shows, including the likable antihero, the traditional authority figures who are always throwing up obstacles, the rogue sidekick and the rotating gallery of colorful suspects.
It’s Netflix, but it feels like old-fashioned network TV – and that’s probably no coincidence, given the showrunner is the prolific David E. Kelley, whose credits include “Boston Public,” “Ally McBeal,” “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Practice,” “Big Sky” and we’re just getting warmed up. Based on the second of Michael Connelly’s five “Lincoln Lawyer” novels (the first was made into a 2011 feature film starring Matthew McConaughey), this is a slick, easily digested and well-acted legal thriller featuring an outstanding ensemble cast and a juicy, lurid murder mystery that keeps us guessing throughout – not that we can’t see some of the twists coming a mile down the road. That’s even part of the fun of shows such as this one; we feel smarter than most of the people in the room, except, of course, our hero, who’s always one step ahead of everyone else, even when it appears as if he’s stumbled down yet another rabbit hole.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo has a kind of effortless charm and creates instant empathy with his portrayal of the flawed but goodhearted defense attorney Mickey Haller, first seen on the beach in Los Angeles, staring out at the waves and reliving a near-fatal accident from a year and a half ago. Mickey essentially fell off the grid – but now he’s back in the game after a former colleague, defense attorney Jerry Vincent, was murdered in a parking garage and, for reasons unknown, left his entire potentially lucrative practice to Mickey.
Presiding Judge Mary Holder (the always terrific LisaGay Hamilton) expresses skepticism about Mickey’s ability to handle the caseload, given his recent history, but he attempts to reassure her, saying, “I was in an accident. … I had multiple surgeries and there were complications. I took painkillers, got addicted to them. That’s over now. I got help, got clean; so whatever concerns you may have about my reputation – ”
“It’s MY reputation I’m concerned about,” says the judge. “I’m the one that has to sign off on you, or not.”
Of course, Judge Holder does sign off on Mickey picking up all of Jerry’s cases, including the high-profile murder trial of hot-shot tech zillionaire Trevor Elliott (Christopher Gorham), who made his fortune after writing the first code that gave lifelike eyes to action video game characters, and how’s THAT for a modern way to make a buck! Elliott is accused of shooting and killing his wife and her yoga instructor after coming home one afternoon and finding them in bed together, and the consensus is he’s guilty as guilty can be. He’s also an obnoxious tool, but Mickey is the man, and Mickey will look past Elliott’s odious personality and the seemingly airtight case against him and dig deep to see if there’s some way, any possible way, Elliott can be found not guilty. Oh, and Elliott insists that the trial not be postponed, because he wants his name and his image and his brand restored ASAP. Self-entitled murder suspects: They’re the worst.
Kelley and co-writer Ted Humphrey seamlessly introduce a number of key characters into the proceedings, starting with Becki Newton’s Lorna, who runs Mickey’s suddenly busy office and is his second wife, and Neve Campbell’s Maggie McPherson, a prosecutor who is Mickey’s FIRST wife and the mother of their teenage daughter, Hayley (Krista Warner).
Mickey’s best friend and dramatic/comedic private eye sidekick is the Zen motorcyclist Cisco (Angus Sampson), who recently has become engaged to Lorna, and Mickey seems fine with that, because he and Lorna work better as friends than romantic partners. (Also, it’s clear Mickey is still in love with Maggie, and how can you not be? It’s Neve Campbell, man!)
Jazz Raycole turns in fine work as Izzy, who, like Mickey, is a recovering drug addict and is hired to drive him around Los Angeles in his Lincoln SUV as he works multiple cases simultaneously – but the major focus is the slimy tech exec and the increasingly labyrinthine circumstances surrounding that double murder.
“The Lincoln Lawyer” has a visually appealing style and makes good use of the L.A. locations, from its sun-dappled afternoons to the noirish nights when, if you’re not careful, someone might clobber you over the head and tell you it’s nothing personal. As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of courtroom scenes, complete with the world-weary judge who keeps telling both attorneys they’re on thin ice and reluctantly allows one or two follow-up questions, but this better be relevant or there will be hell to pay. You know how it goes. We all know how it goes. Sometimes it’s enough just to enjoy the trip.