Presumed Innocent review: How the reboot marks the return of grown-up TV

Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich and Bill Camp as Raymond Horgan in Presumed Innocent. Picture: Apple TV+Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich and Bill Camp as Raymond Horgan in Presumed Innocent. Picture: Apple TV+
Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich and Bill Camp as Raymond Horgan in Presumed Innocent. Picture: Apple TV+
After the glut of comic-book blockbusters, twisty thriller Presumed Innocent is a welcome throwback to television for grown-ups

Presumed Innocent Apple TV+ ****

The Boys Prime Video ***

The Traitors US BBC3 **

Antony Starr as Homelander in The Boys.Antony Starr as Homelander in The Boys.
Antony Starr as Homelander in The Boys.

I presume lots of you are familiar with Presumed Innocent. You might have read Scott Turow’s bestseller or seen the Harrison Ford movie. The latter seems to belong to a far-off time. BC, in fact – before comic-book blockbusters, when mainstream cinemas still screened adult films.

I’ll rephrase that: films for grown-ups. Meaty, twisty, engrossing. I’m pretty sure I thought all that about Presumed Innocent although had to remind myself it was Ford who played the US prosecutor accused of the murder of his colleague and lover. Not entirely my fault: he’s always been one of those actors who basically points his suit at the camera.

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Anyway, Jake Gyllenhaal is Chicago’s assistant district attorney Rusty Sabich in the Apple TV+ version. He’s very good. That is, superficially at least, very passionate about his work, very committed to his family - and very insistent that his wild fling with Caroline Polhemus was long over before she was found dead in her apartment. Summing up, very good at seeming to be good but did he hog-tie her to make the slaying resemble an old one from the casebooks?

Polhemus is played in flashback by The Worst Person in the World’s Renate Reinsve who had most of the male characters in that Norwegian romcom wrapped round her little finger (and most of the male critics including your correspondent). Again, Reinsve is required to give a performance which would provoke men into losing their minds and achieves this effortlessly.

Alan Cumming hosts The Traitors US. Picture: Euan CherryAlan Cumming hosts The Traitors US. Picture: Euan Cherry
Alan Cumming hosts The Traitors US. Picture: Euan Cherry

The screenplay is from David E. Kelley who’s also working to type. A legal drama? Reckless adultery involved? Let him at it. He seems to be mucking around with period. Are we in Turow’s 1980s or bang up to date? The prosecutor who assumes Sabich’s position, and immediately starts prosecuting him, sports a mullet. And Sabich is in therapy, which doesn’t seem to feature as much on screen anymore, perhaps because mental health is everywhere now.

But, no, this is the present. Sabich’s kids fiddle with their phones at the dinner-table and Polhemus, just before the affair begins, says: “I kind of miss the old days when, if two consenting adults wanted to touch each other, they could just do it.”

The mulleted one is the lapdog of the just-installed DA and, coming as a pair, they’re nicknamed “Hall & Oates” - an insult to the yacht-rock duo and there devotees like me, though ironically the real Hall & Oates recently fell out spectacularly and the services of lawyers were required.

The new DA has a sinisterly camp delivery belonging to Adam West’s Batman serial from the 1960s (currently being revived on Talking Pictures TV, Bat-fans). The previous DA is played by Bill Camp, a redoubtable Mr Potato Head support-man for so many shows, who rejects retirement (“Florida’s for dead people!”) to defend Sabich. That’s shaping to be a tough gig. “I was obsessed with her,” the prime suspect admits. “I was basically stalking her.” Yes, meaty, twisty and engrossing, especially if you can’t remember what happened in the original.

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Comic-book blockbusters - shall we have another pop at them? Why not. The Boys is savage superheroes satire. It’s reached season four but I come to it fresh. No need to play catch-up, apparently, because the show rarely deviates.

Don’t be fooled by those capes and masks. The aim of their wearers isn’t to save the world but to rule it. These lunatics are vain, corrupt and like to make heads explode. Well, if this is a one-joke affair it’s pretty funny.

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Here, the inspiration is Donald Trump, admittedly the softest of targets. The opener has a blond-haired megalomaniac standing trial. Outside the court his supporters brandish placards similar in sentiment to MAGA – Make America Great Again. There’s a presidential election pending – 6 January, the date when Trump nutjobs stormed the Capitol.

Blondie is Homelander (Antony Starr), a sort of Aryan version of Captain America in stars ’n’ stripes garb who, bored by fans at a meet-and-greet, orders the other supes to liquidise them. For being this sycophantic, the other supes bore him too so he seeks out new talent, recruiting Sister Sage, literally the smartest person in the world, who’s unafraid of telling Homelander home truths: he’s suffering from “some kind of existential midlife whatever”. It’s true, and there’s a jar in a drawer next to some Nazi trinklets where he’s been amassing grey pubes. Their discovery has shocked him, but wait, does Trump do this? …

There’s a lot going on here. The Boys of the title are a raggle-taggle misfit band striving to do down the superheroes who include an Aquaman tribute called The Deep required to go on daytime TV to deny he’s in love with an octopus. As well as politics, popular culture is sent up mercilessly. Possibly the Rick Astley ringtones, Billy Joel keyrings and the ridiculing of phone-it-in thriller writers like James Patterson are in-jokes, but I can still enjoy them.

I like to find connections, however tenuous, between the programmes I watch on your behalf and Homelander’s plasticky features are mirrored by many of the contestants on Traitors US. These are people with reality experience in the States and presumably that paid for enhancements which, they might argue, first-rung fame demands. You won’t have heard of their shows and probably Alan Partidge couldn’t invent them. Married to Medicine? Shahs of Sunset?

Another Alan – Cumming – hosts. “Your humble narrator” he calls himself while sporting a giant crimson chiffon rose on his screaming tartan cape to begin the scheming at the same Ardross Castle used in the British version.

The Americans watched that so they know what’s required. “Diss is duh name of the game,” mumbles one. They’ve all got duh shades, duh leather trousers, duh fat watches and duh tentative grasp of scripted lines and whatever innocence existed in the very first series - all nobodies and none of them knowing what’s going to happen next - has since been obliterated.

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But wait, who’s the short, grey-haired fellow? The big voice, in inverse proportion to his size, sounds familiar. “Aw-dah! Aw-dah!” he roars for the amusement of Phaedra, Bananas, MJ and Trishelle. Yes, incredibly, it’s John Bercow, former Speaker of the House of Commons. So exactly how many toilet showrooms has he been invited to open with that call-sign? Hopefully we’ll find out.

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