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‘Reasonable Doubt’ Review: A Very Flawed Lawyer Hits Hulu

“Reasonable Doubt” has a fair amount of “scandal” in its DNA.

The series was created by former “Scandal” screenwriter and producer Raamla Mohamed; Kerry Washington is directing the first episode. And the swirling plot around a supposedly benevolent protagonist — who is unconventional in her methods and irresistibly drawn to drama — will bring to mind Olivia Pope, the character played by Washington in the ABC drama. At the time, Olivia was relaxing with a glass of red wine; as if to flex the looser, looser possibilities of streaming, Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Jax Stewart ends his day with a cigarette.

It seems a fitting distillation of a series charged with edgy energy; “Reasonable Doubt” puts Corinealdi’s very flawed protagonist at its center and watches her generate smoke and steam. Jax is a former public defender who now works in high-level criminal defense in Los Angeles; her attention is divided between her workload and her attraction to a man she once defended, incarcerated for many years but still a living part of her life.

Played in both flashback and present day by Michael Ealy, Damon’s character has real chemistry with Jax; it also plays into a character beat that Jax is drawn to by the danger that felt at times like the wrong kind of bad taste. “Reasonable Doubt” aims to address Damon’s plight with sensitivity, but also to treat Jax’s attraction to him as symptomatic of his taste for being mean. It’s a tricky needle to thread, so much so that I was genuinely surprised that this show had Shawn Holley, the famed attorney Jax is loosely based on, as a producer. (Who would be willing to broadcast such an oversized version of themselves?)

The show does best when portraying Jax’s emotional distance from his current affairs, which may interestingly come across as mild legal sociopathy. She refers to a plaintiff who makes harassment charges against her client as an “IG thot” and says that “making someone uncomfortable” is not illegal; this show’s desire to make its heroine fairly unheroic exists in the extreme, but evokes a refreshing honesty about the reality of defense work.

Overall, Jax’s messiness, still much closer to meltdown than Olivia Pope ever was, makes for an interesting protagonist, and Corinealdi effectively sells his intellect and impulses. Produced by ABC Signature for Onyx Collective, a new content brand within Disney aimed at stimulating creators of color and underrepresented voices, “Reasonable Doubt” plays like the juicy soap opera Shonda Rhimes would never write; its excesses often attract and retain our attention.

“Reasonable Doubt” will premiere Tuesday, September 27 on Hulu with its first two episodes, then air episodes weekly thereafter.