Scott Turow’s bestselling legal thriller Presumed Innocent—about a lawyer on trial for the murder of his colleague, with whom he had an extramarital affair—was published in 1987, and, frankly, it shows. Some aspects hold up: Its courtroom scenes, for instance, have real momentum, with compelling play-by-play of testimony and cross-examinations. Then there are other elements, such as the main character’s casual racism and homophobia. A new eight-episode miniseries adaptation, created and co-written by David E. Kelley and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, wisely loses the bigotry, but it has plenty of problems of its own. Its first two episodes premiere on Apple TV+ on June 12.


In the novel, Rusty Sabich is a hotshot prosecutor in a fictional Midwestern city that’s basically Chicago. His co-worker, assistant prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus, has been brutally murdered; she was found naked, tied up, and hit over the head. District Attorney Raymond Horgan assigns the case to Rusty, who declines to mention that he had a sexual relationship with the victim months before. (The affair very nearly ended his marriage to his wife, Barbara.) Rusty didn’t kill Carolyn, but he fears becoming a suspect if the affair were revealed. He and his cop friend have no luck tracking down the real killer, though—although one of Carolyn’s files, involving bribery, seems suspicious. However, there are some pieces of evidence that seem to connect him to the crime—including a glass with his fingerprints on it, and the fact that the murderer’s blood type matches his.

Before long, Rusty’s former colleague, Nico Della Guardia, becomes the new district attorney, and he and his right-hand man, prosecutor Tommy Molto, charge Rusty with the murder. Rusty then hires the brilliant defense lawyer Sandy Stern, and the ensuing trial includes several intriguing twists. The killer’s identity, though, is revealed almost off-handedly, after the trial—and by then many readers will have figured it out. However, the novel’s denouement, which seems to forget all about getting justice for the victim, may give many readers pause.

That’s not the only thing about the novel that will put people off. At one point, Rusty describes a police pathologist, Tatsuo “Painless” Kumagai, as “a weird-looking Japanese who seems to have come out of a forties propaganda piece.” (Turow then portrays Kumagai as such, making him speak clunky English: “We work on all kinds big murder case together.”) Rusty also describes his Jewish Argentinian lawyer’s movements and expressions in deeply questionable ways: “He gave me one of his Judeo-Latin shrugs”; “Sandy’s smile is Latin, complex.”

In addition, Rusty casually refers to a cop’s informants as “hoods, reporters, queers, [and] federal agents,” and doesn’t blink when others drop the word faggot into conversation. Turow’s portrayal of the victim, Carolyn, as a manipulative, unfeeling woman who has sex with several different men to advance her career is, at best, cartoonish, and his depiction of Rusty’s bitter wife, Barbara, is little better. They’re one-dimensional concepts rather than actual women.

Turow apparently expected readers of the 1980s to go along with all this. After all, it’s clear that he wanted readers to sympathize with angst-ridden Rusty, who feels things so very deeply: “I wanted the extreme—the exultation, the passion and the moment, the fire, the light. I reached for Carolyn. In hope. Hope. Everlasting hope.”

Mercifully, the Apple TV+ miniseries does away with this stuff by giving the story a significant rewrite. (By contrast, a 1990 theatrical film version, starring Harrison Ford, stuck closely to the book’s plot.) There’s no talk about Sandy Stern’s “Latin, complex” smile in the show, because there’s no Sandy in this version; instead, Rusty hires his ex-D.A. boss to be his attorney. There’s a welcome lack of bigoted slurs, as well. There’s still plenty of profanity, though—so much, in fact, that it becomes unintentionally hilarious. It’s rare for more than a handful of scenes to go by without someone telling someone else to, well, fuck off.

The miniseries explores several potential suspects that the novel didn’t; in the initial episodes, for instance, Rusty investigates an imprisoned rapist and murderer whom Carolyn prosecuted. However, these new avenues rarely lead anywhere interesting. Instead, the show focuses far more on Rusty’s slow, emotional unraveling—and his inexplicable preoccupation with Carolyn—than on the murder mystery itself. The problem is that Rusty, despite Gyllenhaal’s best efforts, is not a compelling character, and viewers will tire of the show’s exploration of his trite inner life.

Gyllenhaal isn’t the only actor whose considerable talents go to waste. Passing’s Ruth Negga, as Barbara, gets very little to do, other than seethe with anger or look worried. The Kitchen’s Bill Camp as Raymond Horgan, Peter Sarsgaard as Tommy Molto, and Renate Reinsve (The Worst Person in the World) as Carolyn, who’s relegated to occasional flashbacks, all do their best, but there’s only so much they do with such sketchily written roles.

It all results in a miniseries that feels aimless, overlong, and padded. It’s possible that the show will change the ending and offer up a brand-new murderer; reviewers weren’t given the final episode to review, so it’s anyone’s guess. However, viewers would be forgiven if they gave up before the final reveal. No jury would convict them.

David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.