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The Lincoln Lawyer: The McConaughey-Free Netflix Legal Drama is just about okay

VERIFICATION: Really, the expectations couldn’t be higher.

A new legal drama from the combined creative minds behind LA Law, The Practice, Boston Legal, The Good Wife and…err…Ally McBeal. One based on a popular book series that has already spawned a popular movie.

Better yet, they don’t start from scratch, but instead take the story of mobile lawyer Mickey Haller from Michael Connolly’s second 2008 novel, The Brass Verdict, and devote an entire 10-part series to that tome.

So far, so Reacher. But unfortunately, this feels solid rather than spectacular in contrast to this rather brilliant reimagining by Lee Child’s veteran MP investigator, largely a victim of one Matthew McConaughey’s memorable 2011 portrayal of Haller. At the helm of an All-Star cast that also included Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, and William H. Macy, McConaughey lit the screen with Haller’s swagger and chutzpah, heralding the beginning of the McConnaissance that ended by his three years later held an Oscar in his hand.

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Matthew McConaughey starred in 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

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While Goliath and From Dusk Till Dawn: The TV Series’ Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is no slouch when it comes to charisma, he’s quite the adaptation. But maybe that’s the point. Because when we first meet Haller this time, he emerges from a dark place.

An accident 18 months ago resulted in multiple surgeries and complications, including an addiction to painkillers. Though clean now, he hasn’t taken a case in a year, much to the annoyance of his ex-second wife Lorna (Becki Newton), who still runs what’s left of his practice.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Jazz Raycole star in Netflix's The Lincoln Lawyer.

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Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Jazz Raycole star in Netflix’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

So the news that a judge is calling for a meeting with Haller comes as a surprise, Lorna is convinced he’s either having an affair with her or has done something horribly, ethically wrong.

Instead, however, he is told that one of his former adversaries – prosecutor and defense attorney Jerry Vincent – was killed just days after he changed his will to leave his entire practice to Haller.

Provided he can convince the judge that Vincent’s clients have someone competent and skilled representing them, they’re all his, including tech billionaire Trevor Elliott (Christopher Gorham), who allegedly killed his wife and boyfriend . However, with the police already invading Vincent’s offices, Haller’s first task is to prevent the privacy of all of his potential new clients from being violated.

Neve Campbell is a standout character as Mickey Haller's first wife, Maggie McPherson.

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Neve Campbell is a standout character as Mickey Haller’s first wife, Maggie McPherson.

Slightly paralyzed by the desire to keep Haller’s half-brother Harry Bosch (who, of course, has his own very successful, burgeoning franchise on Amazon Prime Video) out of the story, despite playing a significant role in the book series’ investigation into Vincent’s death, creators David E Kelley and Ted Humphrey instead try to keep the focus on Haller’s redemption and return to work.

Kelley in particular has always worked best with an ensemble, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the scenes that work best are those involving our protagonist Lorna, his new driver Izzy Letts (Jazz Raycole) or his first wife , the prosecutor, cheers on prosecutor Maggie McPherson (a scene Neve Campbell steals). When he shows up too late to childcare for the latter to go out on a date, their frustrated rant is met with a murderous response. “If you treat me like s-then at least be decent enough not to look gorgeous while doing it.”

But while the writing is crisp and the plot intriguing, Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Practice, Boston Legal, or The Good Wife.

Without the sustained humor, depth of the quirky characters, superbly directed courtroom set pieces, and ability to turn a dime into heartfelt and searing drama, this feels more like a one-off, lesser ’90s John Grisham adaptation as an addictive show for years to come. Then again, maybe it’s just warming up.

The Lincoln Lawyer is now streaming on Netflix.

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