‘Presumed Innocent’ shines as improvement on ‘Superman” predecessor

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 7/10/24


Streaming shows for fans of mature legal thrillers and all-ages superhero adventures are reaching the peaks of their season arcs.

“Presumed Innocent,” Apple TV+:

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

‘Presumed Innocent’ shines as improvement on ‘Superman” predecessor



Streaming shows for fans of mature legal thrillers and all-ages superhero adventures are reaching the peaks of their season arcs.

“Presumed Innocent,” Apple TV+:

When I was in high school, I saw the 1990 big-screen adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel, which boasted acting heavyweights like Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy and Raul Julia, so this latest adaptation was up against stiff competition to impress me.

Fortunately, legal dramas naturally lend themselves to expanded treatments, as Steven Bochco proved when he devoted the entire first season of his series “Murder One,” from 1995-1996, to a single fictional trial.

In Alan J. Pakula’s 1990 adaptation of “Presumed Innocent,” men were characters whose actions drove the story, while women, to the extent that they appeared at all, were acted upon.

In David E. Kelley’s currently ongoing adaptation, it’s still the actions of accused prosecutor Rozat “Rusty” Sabich (Jake Gyllenhaal) that primarily drive the story, but this time, the women in his life are at least calling him to account for his actions.

The 1990 film minimized the transgressiveness of Rusty’s marital infidelity, not only by casting the ever-righteous Ford in that role, but also by casting sloe-eyed femme fatale Greta Scacchi as Rusty’s mistress, murdered fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus.

Scacchi’s Carolyn had no interior life that we saw onscreen, and was portrayed in flashbacks as driven to climb the ladder in her quest for power.

By contrast, in the currently streaming series, Carolyn is played by the earnest, fresh-faced Renate Reinsve, whom we learn has complicated relationships with her ex-husband and estranged adolescent son, and who was victimized by Rusty’s obsession with her.

Both Carolyn and Rusty’s wife Barbara (Ruth Negga) are victimized by Rusty’s self-serving and inept attempts at compartmentalizing his professional and personal relationships, and both of them are given voices to object to this treatment, unlike Scacchi’s Carolyn or Bonnie Bedelia’s Barbara 34 years ago.

Given his compellingly twitchy performances in paranoid thrillers such as 2014’s “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal is ideally cast as this unreliable version of Rusty Sabich, who can’t keep himself from crossing the line, and continually gets called out for it.

Whereas Pakula allowed Ford’s Rusty to commiserate over Carolyn with a fellow middle-aged white guy, future “West Wing” star John Spencer as police detective Dan Lipranzer, Gyllenhaal’s Rusty receives both support and well-earned verbal chewing-out from a younger Black woman, Nana Mensah as police detective Alana Rodriguez.

Additional tension comes from the fact that Rusty and Barbara are a racially mixed couple in this latest adaptation, so along with all the betrayal any wife would feel over her husband cheating on her, Negga’s Barbara is shouldering the unspoken burden of being a Black woman whose white male partner betrayed her for a white woman.

Five episodes into its eight-episode run, this “Presumed Innocent” is at least as suspenseful as its predecessor, and easily surpasses it in thoughtful complexity.

“My Adventures with Superman,” Max:

Just as sadly departed voice actor Kevin Conroy is now widely regarded as the greatest onscreen Batman, I predict that Jack Quaid, as a voice actor, could one day rival Christopher Reeve for the title of greatest onscreen Superman.

Yes, “My Adventures with Superman” is a brightly colorful all-ages cartoon, but Quaid’s Superman — and Clark Kent — demonstrates profound degrees of empathy and vulnerability.

It’s amazing how Quaid, whose performances are key contributions to more jaded genre streaming shows such as “Star Trek: Lower Decks” and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys,” is able to hammer home that Superman’s most important power (and Achilles’ heel) is his heart.

By having Superman explore his Kryptonian heritage while Lois Lane (Alice Lee) tries to come to terms with her stern, secretive father (Joel de la Fuente as “The General”), this show engages with notions of what children owe their parents, in terms of living up to their standards and carrying forward the cultures they raised their kids with, as well as what parents owe their children, in terms of affection, approval and autonomy.

This theme is reinforced by the arrival of a mercurial new member of our cast’s extended family, as well as the perfect casting of Michael Emerson from “Lost” as a particularly insidious and manipulative foe for Superman.

When it comes to revamping comic book bad guys for the 21st century, I appreciate how “My Adventures with Superman” is willing to lean on the slow burn, to gradually establish them as serious threats over time.

It also cultivates those characters as ongoing adversaries, by granting our heroes victories against them on some fronts, but setbacks in others.

I look forward to seeing how Superman prevails against the latest Big Bad, but I’m already anticipating the ways in which his other enemies will weaponize the situation against him.