Presumed Innocent series premiere recap and review: Slow burn riveting television bolstered by excellent cast

Jake Gyllenhaal takes over for Harrison Ford by stepping into the shoes of disgraced prosecutor Rusty Sabich in this new adaptation of Scott Furow's 1987 novel of the same name.
Presumed Innocent - credit: Apple TV+
Presumed Innocent - credit: Apple TV+ /

The 1990 legal thriller Presumed Innocent, starring Harrison Ford, is a great film, albeit one with some serious issues regarding its depictions of women. The new Apple TV+ adaptation of Scott Turow's novel attempts to approach its delicate subject matter with more care toward the victim at the center of its narrative.

Rusty Sabich (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a prodigious prosecutor working closely alongside district attorney Raymond Horgan. But as we know from the trailer, the movie, and the novel, Rusty soon finds himself a suspect in a serious murder investigation into the grisly death of his colleague, fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve). And we'll be getting into spoiler territory for the first two episodes.

It soon comes to light that Rusty—who is married to Barbara and has two children with her—was having an affair with Carolyn, one he claims didn't last long and ended a long time ago. But that's not the whole truth. Rusty and Carolyn restarted their fling briefly before she died, and when Carolyn broke things off, Rusty became obsessed with her, sending her a barrage of emails and texts. Couple that with his DNA at the crime scene, and Rusty gets arrested. Quickly labeled the prime suspect of the case.

Presumed Innocent doesn't exactly tread new ground. Even if you weren't aware of the book or 1990 film, you would figure out quickly that Rusty and Carolyn were having an affair.

While the pacing of the new series is set to a "slow burn" setting, which might turn some viewers away, it's made engaging thanks to the performances of its lead actors, meaning Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role, and while Ruth Negga hasn't had much to do just yet in the first two episodes, she's already providing depth to Barbara that elevates her from the "scorned wife" to a character with a lot more depth.

The supporting cast is also great, with Bill Camp and Peter Sarsgaard being particular standouts. O-T Fagbenle is perfectly smarmy as new district attorney Nico Dell Guardia. And it's always nice when Lily Rabe shows up. Here she's playing Rusty's therapist, Dr. Rush.

There is a lot to like about Presumed Innocent, and I think the fact that it is a weekly release will help the show tremendously as it likely drums up conversation in the coming weeks. It's the kind of tense water cooler series you might expect from HBO.

Plus, who doesn't like seeing Jake Gyllenhaal get super intense and scream at people?

O-T Fagbenle as Nico Dell Guardia stares intensely at Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich to his right
Presumed Innocent episode 2, courtesy of Apple /

In addition to establishing Carolyn's murder, the first episode reveals a past crime with eerie similarities to Carolyn's murder. A woman named Bunny Davis was killed and hog-tied similarly, leading the prosecution to question if convicted murderer Liam Reynolds (Mark Harelik), who is currently serving life in prison without a chance at parole, could have summoned an accomplice to off Carolyn as revenge for putting him behind bars.

But Presumed Innocent quickly introduces a dark thought: Could Liam Reynolds have been innocent of the crime? Rusty discovers there was a second sperm sample at the Bunny Davis crime scene that never got investigated.

Rusty starts at the top in the first episode, but his decline is swift due to two primary factors. The reveal of his romantic connection to Carolyn and the fact that his boss Raymond Horgan loses the election to Dell Guardia. Nico and his right-hand prosecutor, Tommy Molto (Sarsgaard), have no love lost for Rusty, so when they find evidence connecting him to the crime, they're swift in arresting him and getting him in front of a judge. To hammer in their "no one is above the law" creed.

Rusty begins digging into Caroline's murder in haste in the second episode, helped by his friend and lone ally, Detective Rodriguez (Nana Mensah). After some begging, Raymond also agrees to become Rusty's attorney, eager to defeat Dell Guardia and Tommy in some capacity. Another shocking reveal comes to light: Carolyn was pregnant and a paternity test reveals Rusty was the father.

The double premiere ends with Rusty receiving a threatening text from an anonymous source that says, "You were there that night," hinting that, yet again, Rusty has left something out of his side of the story and things are looking worse for him by the second.

New episodes of Presumed Innocent air weekly on Apple TV+. To stay up to date on thrillers, sci-fi, and horror, bookmark 1428 Elm and follow our Facebook page and Twitter account!

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