TV Review: ‘Doubt’ With Katherine Heigl and Laverne Cox

Doubt
CBS

A new CBS procedural stacks a huge cast in a high-profile criminal defense firm for frothy, silly fun

Doubt” is what might happen if a Shonda Rhimes show got lost on the way to production and accidentally ended up at CBS. It touts many of the hallmarks of Rhimes’ glitzy workplace soaps: The legal drama stars Katherine Heigl, formerly of “Grey’s Anatomy,” as Sadie Ellis, a heroine with twisted parentage, consuming investment for her work as an attorney, and a dysfunctional sex life. An actress from one Rhimes show, with all the personality traits of Olivia Pope from “Scandal” and the profession of Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away With Murder” — “Doubt” feels very familiar.

At the same time, the show does feel very CBS; as if the Shondaland methodology for creating drama was tempered by some of the chilly soul-searching of “The Good Wife” and the fraught intergenerational dynamics of “Blue Bloods.” Creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater both worked on “Grey’s Anatomy” before shifting to CBS’ “Madam Secretary” — two shows that share the same notion of its talented characters trying to make the world a better place through the flawed institutions they work for, but with vastly different moods and tones. You can see both at play in “Doubt.”

Yet the standout of the cast is not Heigl but Laverne Cox’s Cameron, who expands into the role to offer it a touch of gravitas that gives the show much-needed grounding. Cameron, like Cox, is trans, and her gender identity is discussed in the pilot with careful explanation before becoming a part of the scenery with quick, natural ease. The third episode introduces the beginnings of a flirtation with a rival lawyer (apparently, on “Doubt,” characters are required to dabble in professionally perilous romances), which provides an avenue for truly unique storytelling for network television.

Heigl’s Sadie, however, provides the soap. The spine of the season is Sadie’s ongoing case, defending handsome pediatric surgeon Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale) against a murder charge from 16 years ago. The evidence suggests Billy’s guilty, but his totally dreamy eyes suggest otherwise (at least to Sadie). The two embark on a romance that looks as cheesy as it sounds. All this reminds the firm’s head Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould) of the time he got too close to a client, a client he still visits in prison… played by the incomparable Judith Light…. who, let’s just say, has more connection to the firm than meets the eye.

This encompasses half of the firm’s employees and its characters’ subplots. There is also Albert (Dulé Hill)’s marital issues, Tiffany (Dreama Walker)’s attempts to adjust to city life after moving to Iowa, and Nick (Kobi Libii)’s efforts to be taken seriously as an ex-con who studied law in prison. “Doubt” is so full of plot that it almost trips over itself, and its plotlines, while hurried, are often adventurous and intimate about identity politics and corporate maneuvering. But the writing lacks the brilliant quality of any of the show’s forebears, whether that is Rhimes’ shows, “The Good Wife,” or even the talky Aaron Sorkin series. “Doubt’s” leads quip at each other with a rhythm that is at least supposed to read smart and sophisticated — but the deftness of the words doesn’t always keep pace with the tempo.

Still, given just how ambitious and daring the show is, words seem beside the point. There’s a brazen quality to “Doubt” that is frothy enough to be silly but grounded enough to take on topical, controversial subjects. It doesn’t require too much effort to let unfold, and with such a talented, deep bench of actors, it’s usually enough to watch them bounce off of each other while flaunting their impossibly stylish accessories.

TV Review: 'Doubt' With Katherine Heigl and Laverne Cox

Drama, 13 episodes (3 reviewed): CBS, Weds. Feb. 15, 10 p.m. 60 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Tony Phelan, Joan Rater, Carl Beverly, Sarah Timberman

Cast

Katherine Heigl, Dulé Hill, Elliott Gould, Laverne Cox, Stephen Pasquale, Dreama Walker, Kobi Libii

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  1. Ann says:

    I just don’t understand how they can cancel a show after two episodes. Who decides? Who gets surveyed? I’ve never known a person who has been asked what they’re watching. I thought I’d finally found a new show worth watching BESIDES “This is Us.” Disappointed.

  2. Andrew Lindsay says:

    Let’s see! A TV show with a celebrity who couldn’t get arrested on talent alone, and humanize a radical mother activist who killed a state trooper! Sounds about as appealing to mainstream grassroots Americans as that Kerri Russell show with Soviet spies as the protagonists! Can’t imagine why this show got its only positive reviews from liberal critics and was cancelled after two episodes!!!

  3. Dana says:

    I love Dule Hill, and Eliot Gould and dreama walker but I found LaVerne Cox’s acting (sadly) quite amateur…and distracting. Bummer.

  4. WhatAmIMissing says:

    I’m a Katherine Heigl fan and I usually give new shows lots of rope to see if it can engage me. Sorry, but my rope was only about 15 minutes long. I found nothing compelling so I’m done. Apparently, from what, I’ve read, i’ve got lots of company on this one.

  5. Laverne and Dule were engaging and realistic and emotional. Heigl was totally boring and bland, a poor casting choice for sure. Too bad, the show has potential but not with a bland star. Her relationship with her client, who isn’t all that dreamy anyway, was developed too quickly and too soap operish. I found myself wanting them both to go away. Boston Legal it was not.

  6. POP says:

    you forgot to mention the shades of Boston Legal.. complete with scotch on the deck after work…c’mon, people!!!

  7. Kate Smith says:

    Can’t wait to watch it! I love Katherine Heigl and Laverne Cox! I can’t believe people in the comments section are still hung up on a years old story about Heigl and Rhimes.

  8. Jeff says:

    What do TV People need from the public to finally get it through their heads we don’t want to watch Heigl in anything except the unemployment office.

  9. ... says:

    Rhimes is anything but brilliant. Were she a different color or gender providing the exact same content, she would get a fraction of the praise.

  10. Dunstan says:

    Ms. Saraiya not so subtley looked past Heigl’s numerous series failures since her departure from Grey’s. Whatever was appealing about KH in the past has long dissipated.

  11. swede says:

    This will be a SERIOUS fail.

  12. zangadoo says:

    So it’s a new L.A. Law. Only more stupid. Thanks for warning us.

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