The premise behind CBS’s newest series, “Doubt,” is an interesting concept, but one without passion or conviction. The series follows renowned lawyers Sadie (Katherine Heigl, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Albert (Dulé Hill, “Psych”) as they work to prove that pediatric neurosurgeon (Steven Pasquale, “Rescue Me”) is, beyond a reasonable doubt, completely innocent of a crime committed 25 years prior. However, pathos clashes with professionalism when Sadie finds herself falling for the convicted, a fact that is especially chilling when she admits a startling truth — her lack of certainty that Billy did not commit the crime with which he stands accused.
One of the downsides of “Doubt” is the obvious struggle that Hill and Heigl face when it comes to falling out of old habits. Albert (Dulé Hill, “Psych”) is overly serious, to the point that his humor feels forced and out of context — highly reminiscent of his time on long-running comedy series “Psych.” It seems like Heigl struggles with breaking the mold as well, pushing her “Grey’s Anatomy” character to the forefront of her performance. In her role as a surgical resident, Heigl played up the flawed and emotional doctor, unable to make it through an episode without letting her emotions overtake her priorities as a professional. As a lawyer, she owes the public and family of the victim closure, something that is done in a professional manner — however, justice doesn’t hold a place for emotional connections between the convicted and their defenders. Adding in a jailed mother, and Sadie is mirror image of Heigl’s previous role, in both mannerisms and inflections alike. Heigl still commands a scene, not in the conventional manner, but instead with over-the top emotional context, reminding viewers in a recurring and uncomfortable manner of her humanity. This is quite unfortunate for “Doubt,” which has created a character who, perhaps developed for a specific role, comes off as flat and unoriginal.
The development of a unique personality is not the only thing that “Doubt” struggles with in separating itself from series of a similar nature. Though there are not many facets of Sadie’s personality that are standoutish — a young, independent woman who is eco-conscious and friends with her co-workers — the minor characters of “Doubt” are truly generic. In fact, it often feels as though, in developing an overstuffed plot and focusing too heavily on introductions, the writers neglected to award a personality to these members of the cast. For a more obvious example of this neglect, one should look no further than resident dumb blonde Tiffany (Dreama Walker, “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23”), who continuously reminds viewers that just because she’s from Iowa doesn’t mean she milks cows all day. Even boss Isaiah (Elliott Gould, “Mash”) is given less than stellar dialogue to work with, his lines often bordering on the obscene and soapy. Like many of the characters on “Doubt,” an interesting plotline is disregarded for cheesy one-liners and a lineup of stars who feel as if they cannot pull themselves out of their comfort zones.
Despite a cast with overly dramatized background stories, Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) is open regarding her sexuality, but in a subtle manner which feels more natural and fits comfortably into the dynamic of the series. As someone who has faced injustice firsthand, her choices as a lawyer are much more structured and passionate. In the few times that Cox takes over the scene, she commands the screen with the conviction with which the remainder of the cast struggles. That being said, Cox is also given limited screen time, and though she shines in the courtroom, the transition between lawyer and bar patron is a sudden shift that doesn’t sit well with Cox and dulls her overall performance in the series.
However interesting the plot of “Doubt” sounds on paper, there is a haunting presence of “Law & Order” and performances of series past that holds “Doubt” back from reaching its intended potential. Though the narrative has aspects which could be compelling, the line delivery is less than stellar and an issue that does not sit comfortably with the series. I’ve yet to watch the remainder of the season, but if “Doubt” can clear up some of the standout issues experienced in the pilot episode, it may live up to the status of “Law & Order.” Then again, with so many similar series currently airing under the same premise, “Doubt” is an easily forgettable addition to this season’s lineup.