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The Lincoln Lawyer is Cleverly Updated, Old-School TV

The murder is a good one. Like the first season, the second season of Netflix’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” pivots around one particular crime. Here, it’s the killing of Mitchell Bondurant (Clint Carmichael), a greedy and potentially corrupt Los Angeles real estate developer who’s trying to gentrify huge swaths of the city for his pocketbook.

We never meet the man (or at least not in the first half of the ten-episode season, dropping July 6). There is no grieving widow or kids. He’s just the face on some billboards. So his death is more of a puzzle than a tragedy, something for defense attorney Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) to untangle and get entangled in. 

“The Lincoln Lawyer” works well in that space. The off-camera murder of someone we don’t care about allows our hero to remain fundamentally good, with the plot revolving more around who goes to jail than who died. Heightening the stakes is that the person on trial for Bondurant’s death, Lisa Trammell (Lana Parilla), is a love interest of Mickey’s—the two sleep together in the season opener.

The show thrives in that messiness. “The Lincoln Lawyer” is at its best when Garcia-Rulfo can swing between a smitten-boyish smile and some ethically questionable legal tactics. The second season gives him plenty of opportunities to do that, thanks to Lisa and her legal trouble, his close proximity to two of his ex-wives—Maggie McPherson (Neve Campbell) and Lorna Crane (Becki Newton), and some loose-ins from season one.

It’s this constellation—Mickey and his women, including Jazz Raycole as his driver Izzy Letts—that makes the show special. Here are many grown-ups with varying histories, all striving to do what’s right, find love and happiness, and support and accept each other. They make tough decisions and heart-wrenching mistakes, and it’s both heartwarming and adult, not a coming-of-age story but rather an of-age one.

Garcia-Rulfo’s Mickey charms wherever he goes, but his vulnerability really wins him points. He’s sexy and honest, with enough mischief to keep him interesting. Newton’s Lorna also mixes playfulness and toughness, oozing her charm. Campbell’s McPherson is the adult in the room who has to make the tough decisions and pays the consequences for them. But she’s not a nag—she’s just clear on who Mickey is, who she is, and the boundaries they need to make their co-parenting friendship work.

Unfortunately, “The Lincoln Lawyer” doesn’t keep its focus there. In the first half of the second season, it spends a lot of time with Dennis 'Cisco' Wojciechowski (Angus Sampson). He’s Mickey’s investigator, Lorna’s finance, and horribly miscast. An ex-biker-gang member, Cisco still rides his hog and tries to do good, but just comes off as ridiculous with an over-the-top gravelly voice—there's no danger or sex appeal about him—and cliche shots where he takes off (and on) his aviator sunglasses.

So yes, “The Lincoln Lawyer” doesn’t manage all its elements perfectly, but it’s got enough going to make for pleasurable, glossy entertainment. The thing with a show like “The Lincoln Lawyer” is that is primarily supposed to be fun. Sexy. Silly. It’s plot-driven, with the stars’ chemistry radiating off the screen. Cisco aside, it delivers on that promise.

Part of its gloss is in how it’s shot. Los Angeles is a character in it; the city never looks so good as in the view from Mickey’s balcony. Audiences may be used to this version of LA with its blue skies, palm trees, and high rises. But “The Lincoln Lawyer” gets a few things right about the often-portrayed town that so many other productions get wrong—the fact that Los Angeles is just so Latino.

We’re talking about the city with the world's second-highest concentration of people with Mexican ancestry (after Mexico’s capital). A place that’s at least half Latino. And while most of Hollywood appears to ignore (or actively negate) this fact, “The Lincoln Lawyer” celebrates it. There’s Mickey’s accent. Him speaking Spanish. Him discussing Spanish proficiency with other Latinos. It’s in the food the characters eat, the names of the streets, the extras all around.

Those little details don’t turn “The Lincoln Lawyer” into a show meant exclusively for Latino audiences. They don’t make it political or even serious. They add texture and a touch of realism, grounding our characters in their multiracial metropolis and setting them free to solve murders, have sex, and execute their far-fetched plans. It’s an old-school type of television show. And its formula, cleverly updated and executed, still works.

The first five episodes of the second season of “The Lincoln Lawyer” premiere on Netflix today, with the next five coming on August 3rd. Six episodes were screened for this review.

Cristina Escobar

Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of LatinaMedia.Co, a digital publication uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media.

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