Created by: Mark Bomback
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Mark Bomback
Produced by: Mark Bomback, Chris Evans, Morten Tyldum, Rosalie Swedlin, Adam Shulman
Other cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gabriel, Sakina Jaffrey
Premiere date: April 24, 2020
Episodes: All episodes
Running time: 402 minutes
This limited drama series is a gripping, character-driven thriller based on the 2012 New York Times best selling novel of the same name by William Landay. An assistant DA’s world is shattered when his beloved son gets charged with murder.
Neal Loguidice questions Andy Barber in an indictment. Months earlier, Andy is a respected assistant district attorney in Newton, Massachusetts, who lives a content, suburban life with his wife Laurie and their 14-year old son Jacob. Andy is assigned to prosecute the murder of Ben Rifkin, a classmate of Jacob’s, who is found stabbed to death in the park near their middle school. Andy and Detective Pam Duffy question students at the school, but are unable to discern a motive for the murder. While questioning Jacob privately about Ben, Jacob tells Andy and Laurie that Ben was unlikable and later expresses frustration to Andy over the exaggerated false sympathy from his classmates over Ben’s death. Duffy discovers a possible suspect, Leonard Patz, a convicted sexual predator, but Andy is advised against bringing him in until they find solid evidence. That night, Andy discovers an online message board memorializing Ben and becomes disturbed after reading a series of comments, including one from Jacob’s friend Derek, accusing Jacob of murdering Ben. Andy searches Jacob’s room and finds a knife fitting the description of the murder weapon hidden in his drawer.
Andy and Laurie confront Jacob about the knife and message board. Jacob insists he never used the knife and that the comments are meaningless. Andy disposes of the knife. The police bring in Leonard Patz for questioning but are unable to implicate him in the murder and he is released. At the DA’s office, Lynn tells Andy that the lone fingerprint they picked up from Ben’s body belongs to Jacob and that Jacob has become the prime suspect in the case. Andy is informed that he has been d from the case and is upset when he learns that Neal has been assigned to prosecute in his place. The police obtain a search warrant and search their home. On the way home from school, Jacob sees police outside the house and, panicked, runs away. When eventually found by a police officer, he insists that he is innocent, but reveals that he found Ben’s body the morning of his death and didn’t tell anyone as he was afraid he would get blamed for it. Andy and Laurie learn that Jacob will be held overnight in jail before his arraignment the following morning. At a diner, Leonard Patz looks through his photo album on his phone, filled with photos of Ben Rifkin, before deleting them.
Andy and Laurie hire Joanna Klein, a friend of Andy’s and an experienced lawyer, to represent Jacob, and Jacob is allowed to go home on bail. Andy and Laurie restrict Jacob from accessing social media to keep him away from the media’s coverage of the case. Andy is haunted by flashbacks of his childhood and reveals to Laurie that his father, whom he had told everyone abandoned his family when he was a baby, is a convicted murderer. Laurie begins to crack under the weight of the case: she is sent home on temporary leave from her job as director of a children’s home, their garage is vandalized, and her best friend cuts off contact with her. Andy, insistent that Leonard Patz is the true suspect, convinces Duffy to send him Patz’s file. Joanna sends Laurie and Andy to Dr. Vogel, a psychiatrist specializing in genetic behavior, to prepare them for the chance the prosecution may use the “murder gene” as an argument. While Andy remembers Jacob as a normally behaved child, Laurie recalls that Jacob was difficult and often aggressive; Andy is upset that Laurie would imply Jacob is capable of violence, but Laurie insists she does not doubt Jacob’s innocence. Sarah calls Duffy and tells her that she has information on Ben’s murder.
Andy visits the home of a teenager, Matt, who accused Leonard Patz of sexually assaulting him. Andy attempts to question Matt but the visit turns confrontational and Matt’s defensive behavior leads Andy to believe he’s hiding something. Later, Andy follows Patz to his apartment and takes note of his address. At home, Andy is pleased to find Sarah visiting Jacob; later that night, Jacob tells him that Sarah believes Derek killed Ben. Privately, Jacob creates a secret Instagram account despite his parents’ rules banning him from social media. Meanwhile, Laurie is becoming increasingly destabilized, stalking her former coworkers and lying to Andy about going to dinner with a friend while she eats at a diner alone. At the diner, she is approached by a friendly woman whom she confides in; when the woman reveals herself to be a reporter for The Boston Globe, she leaves in a panic and does not tell Andy about the incident. Dr. Vogel conducts multiple tests to determine any psychopathic tendencies in Jacob and takes a DNA sample from Andy. Dr. Vogel reveals that they also need a DNA sample from Andy’s father, but that he will only provide a sample if Andy obtains it himself. Andy, despite his anger and fear of his father, agrees.
Andy visits his father Billy in prison. Andy is hostile towards Billy, and when he refuses to help him reduce his sentence, Billy refuses to give the DNA sample. Laurie goes grocery shopping, encountering Ben’s mother, who spits in Laurie’s face upon seeing her grocery cart full of Fourth of July snacks. Laurie later confides in Dr. Vogel a moment in Jacob’s childhood where he attempted to hit a boy with a bowling ball, but was stopped by Laurie. Andy confronts Derek, who tells him Jacob was into “cutter porn”, telling Andy there’s a lot he doesn’t know about Jacob. Andy also speaks to Sarah, who confides that she would text Ben at night, and he would later pressure her into sending him a nude selfie; Ben told Sarah he would leak the picture if she didn’t perform oral sex on him. Sarah also reveals Derek stole Ben’s phone; Sarah became angry at Derek, and two days later Ben was found dead with his phone still missing. Jacob becomes angry, believing that Sarah only spent time with him out of guilt. The next day, Andy and Jacob go fishing, and Andy later receives a call from Matt.
Joanna gains access to Ben’s phone, but she and Andy find no evidence. Neal also mentions Andy’s father, causing him to push Neal against the wall. That night, a strange blue car loiters outside of the Barber house, troubling Andy and Laurie. The next day, Matt reveals to Andy, Joanna, and the prosecution what happened with Patz, revealing he began to focus on Ben. Neal believes the story to be too convenient, but a search warrant is issued on Patz’ house. Andy and Laurie meet with Dr. Vogel, who reveals that Jacob tested negative for the “murder gene” (Andy and Billy tested positive), but all three tested positive for a violence inducing receptor, troubling Laurie. Andy confronts the man in the blue car with a crowbar, telling him to stay away. The next morning, Andy, Laurie, and Jacob leave for the first day of the trial.
The trial begins, with Andy appearing as Joanna’s second chair, and any mention of Andy’s father being off limits. After the first day of the trial, the man in the blue car is seen by Andy, and Duffy gets him to hand over ID, revealing him as a gang “muscle” named Father O’Leary. The trial continues, with Neal getting on the judge’s bad side by focusing too much on Andy, bringing out a knife in the same model as Jacob’s, and using Andy’s outburst against him in the courthouse as a way to get Duffy, on the stand, to admit to Andy’s father being in prison. On day four, Joanna receives news that Matt has fled the state and will not testify. Neal brings Derek to the stand, who reads a story written by Jacob fantasizing Ben’s murder. Andy and Laurie have a talk that night, where Laurie believes he is confessing, while Andy believes Jacob is just fantasizing Ben’s murder, as every detail in the story was revealed on the news. That night, Patz writes a letter on the back of his subpoena, confessing to Ben’s murder.
The next morning, Joanna tells Andy that Patz confessed before killing himself. Jacob’s case is dismissed. In the parking lot, Ben’s father angrily approaches the Barbers, but is beaten up by O’Leary, revealing himself as a friend of Billy’s. The Barbers plan to move to Colorado, feeling unwelcome in Newton, while Laurie feels guilty for believing that Jacob killed Ben. Andy meets with Lynn, who tells Andy that the Patz case finally closed due to things not “adding up”. Andy, seeing the crowbar he threatened O’Leary with, visits Billy in prison, where Andy deduces that Billy hired O’Leary to force Patz’ confession to free Jacob, which is revealed to the audience through flashbacks. The Barbers take their planned vacation to Mexico, where Jacob hits it off with a girl named Hope. He goes to a party with her, but leaves early. The next morning, Jacob is confronted as Hope has gone missing. Andy reveals to Laurie that he believes Billy had Patz killed. Hope is found alive, but the Barbers leave Mexico early. Laurie becomes distraught and troubled. She later takes Jacob to get a haircut; Andy finds that she has thrown away scrapbooks of Jacob and tries to call her, but she declines them. In the car, Laurie asks Jacob if he killed Ben, not believing him when he repeatedly says no, lamenting that she’ll never know the truth. Jacob, scared, tells her he killed Ben if that is what she wants to hear. Laurie drives the car into an overpass. The grand jury trial that has framed the story is revealed to be for Laurie, not for Jacob. Andy, not knowing the truth, vouches that the crash was an accident. Laurie is cleared, and Andy visits Jacob, who is in a coma, and Laurie, who is badly injured. He returns home alone, where he sits in Jacob’s room and reflects.
On September 20, 2018, it was announced that Apple had given a straight-to-series order consisting of eight episodes to a television mini-series adaptation of William Landay’s 2012 novel Defending Jacob. The series was created by Mark Bomback, who also wrote the entire series and would serve as an executive producer alongside Chris Evans, Morten Tyldum (who would direct every episode), Rosalie Swedlin and Adam Shulman.
Alongside the announcement of the series, it was confirmed that Chris Evans had been cast in the series’ lead role. In March 2019, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell joined the cast of the series. In April 2019, Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gabriel and Sakina Jaffrey joined the cast of the series.
Filming was confirmed to commence in Newton, Massachusetts – the city in which the novel takes place – in April 2019. Additional locations confirmed for production were Cold Spring Park, the village of Newton Highlands, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Mount Ida Campus.
Additional filming took place Belmont, Massachusetts. On June 15, 2019, filming began in Salem, Massachusetts. On June 17, 2019, production filmed at the MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts. Production moved to film in Lowell, Massachusetts by the University of Massachusetts Lowell Tsongas Arena on June 19, 2019.
Jun 21 saw filming take place at River’s Edge in Medford, Massachusetts, before moving to Worcester on June 28, 2019. On July 8, 2019, filming moved to Watertown, Massachusetts, where the façade of the old Watertown Police Station would serve as the Newtown Police Station in the series. Filming on July 9, 2019 took place at the Town Diner in Watertown. On July 18, 2019, they filmed at C&M Pizza in Leominster, Massachusetts.
Neighborhood scenes were filmed in Needham, Massachusetts. The scenes in Mexico were filmed on September 25, 2019 at the Grand Velas hotel in Nuevo Vallarta, in the state of Nayarit.
The series quickly emerged as the second most streamed show on
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