Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — a high-powered and talented attorney, who also has a penchant for social justice but no social life, finds herself romantically embroiled with one of her clients, who may or may not have committed a murder. This is the overarching plot of Doubt, CBS’s new legal procedural, which sees Katherine Heigl in the lead role as Sadie Ellis, with Steven Pasquale’s Billy as the man providing all of the doubt. He may have killed his girlfriend when he was a younger man, but now he’s a pediatric heart surgeon so how could it be true?! People change! He’s so handsome!
CBS isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with this one, nor do they need to. The Eye network is very good at giving the green light to content that is created exactly to the specifications of its mostly white, mostly older audience. It therefore wins the viewership wars and makes a ton of money by tailoring its content and rarely deviating from it. Occasionally CBS tests the waters beyond that, with a show as subversive and bizarre as BrainDead (which it cancelled at the end of its summer run), or by creating a genuinely great legal drama in The Good Fight (available only online), but it’s rarely primetime content.
I say all of this to express two points: If you’re looking for something new or interesting with Doubt, you’re not going to find it. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we all need a little legal or political or medical procedural in our lives, and you could do worse than Doubt.
Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, but there you have it. Doubt has a great cast and a solid (if familiar) narrative structure, using the Sadie / Billy plot as its overarching storyline while peppering in B-plots in the courtroom handled by the rest of the likably quirky (and surprisingly diverse) attorneys (played by Laverne Cox, Dreama Walker, Dulé Hill, Elliott Gould, and Kobi Libii). And taking a page from Shondaland’s book (co-creator Tony Phelan comes from Grey’s Anatomy along with his co-creator wife Joan Rater), Doubt also makes sure that personal lives and professional lives are always intertwined, often by making the cases related to or particularly meaningful for the lawyers. You know the drill. Oh, and Sadie is motivated by the incarceration of her mother when she was a young girl, if you hadn’t already guessed.
Doubt isn’t a whirling, spinning drama that is full of pulsing background music, walk-and-talks, and jump cuts to high-stakes scenes. It’s fairly quiet, measured, and though it’s still working out how to incorporate the other attorneys in a way that feels compelling (currently it’s not), it does succeed at being a low-fi procedural — even though low-fi can border far too often on just boring. Even three episodes in, we don’t have a solid feel for who Sadie is outside of what others say about her (and what she says about herself). There are also a lot of characters, and thus a lot of clunky exposition to give them some kind of backstory. (How long have I been asleep?)
Still, Doubt does win some points back for stacking its talent roster so deep that it can afford to keep people like Judith Light and Becky Ann Baker around just for minor roles. But even given the talent of the cast and what seems like a surprisingly strong push for diversity, even for Heigl fans there’s nothing about Doubt that makes it close to appointment television.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Good to watch before bedtime
Doubt premieres Wednesday, February 15th on CBS