There’s something special about sinking your teeth into a new TV show that’s not doing anything particularly new. It stereotypes with impunity, it doesn’t bother overmuch with characters’ inner lives, and it glides over their moral struggles without feeling the need to linger over these for several episodes. It has a happy heart, and it’s not afraid of being thought uncool.
It’s a grownup among edgy, angry teenagers; a dad-bod that strayed into a herd of perfectly chiselled human bodies (but is happy to be a dad-bod).
Take The Lincoln Lawyer on Netflix. This is is a show that doesn’t bother with moody lighting or slow, lingering shots of death. It just gets on with the business of storytelling without a fuss, and it’s what we didn’t know we needed, because such shows are few and far between in the era of prestige TV — made for binge-watching on streaming services and as Emmy bait at the end of the year.
While no one’s denying prestige TV has brought us much joy and possibly enlarged our view of what episodic television is capable of (so much so that it has eclipsed the movies in terms of the sheer scope of human creativity and imagination), the prestigification of material that are basically quite mediocre — think Ozark, think The White Lotus — or of stories that would benefit from a more wholesomely kooky approach rather than a stilted and joyless one — think Foundation or Perry Mason — has reached a point of tedium.
But we are so used to prestige TV today that we don’t know we need just an average, unpretentious, well-made show till we stumble upon one, and in 2022, that show is The Lincoln Lawyer, a blessedly average legal drama based on a bestselling series of books by Michael Connelly starring practically unknown actors (at least in India). The protagonist is Mickey Haller, a Los Angeles-based defence attorney who’s so busy shuttling between cases that his Lincoln cars have become his de-facto office, giving the show its name. Haller faces a setback when he becomes addicted to pain meds following a surfing incident (gloriously dealt with within the first five minutes of the show instead of becoming a desolate study of addiction and its consequences) and is given the chance of a comeback when a fellow lawyer dies unexpectedly, bequeathing him his practice. The first few episodes of the show are like the best of The Good Wife — Haller scrapes by using absurd legal tactics and loopholes in each of the cases he gets handed without preparation — but this is a show that so joyfully embraces its own absurdities that all is forgiven.
There is a larger story, of course — The Lincoln Lawyer is not quite House MD, given over to the solving of one formulaic problem after another in each episode — and that’s a murder case in which Haller finds himself defending a billionaire tech-bro accused of murdering his wife and her lover. There are several sub-plots, including a really good one that involves human trafficking, and some slick acting.
This is a show explicitly made for bingeing, and given Netflix’s recent troubles after losing a substantial number of subscribers worldwide, probably the kind the streaming giant should be prioritising over expensive projects like the gauche and clueless Inventing Anna or Anatomy of a Scandal, which yet again applied a prestige filter to basically mediocre material.
Also, it is possible to get tired of shows that push the boundaries of what is acceptable to be shown on TV (a certain gratuitously icky scene in last year’s The White Lotus comes to mind) or make superficial affirmative choices (like the mixed-race casting of Bridgerton). Nor do we always want a complex protagonist (Perry Mason turned the most insouciant of characters into a perennially tortured one) or the reimagining of a silly comicbook into a dark drama (Riverdale). Sometimes, we just need mediocre TV.