The teenage years are never simple. There are the hormones, the ridiculous high school hierarchy, the peer pressure, the homework, and in Jacob Barber’s case, the murder accusation. Okay, so Jacob isn’t a normal teenager. But until recently, his parents thought he was.
In Defending Jacob (now streaming on Apple TV+), the 14-year-old title character (Jaeden Martell) goes from homeroom to a jail cell when a classmate turns up dead and he’s suspected of the murder. Based on William Landay’s best-selling 2012 novel, the Massachusetts-set limited series stars Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery as Jacob’s parents — his defenders, if you will. But when their son becomes the biggest news story in town, their seemingly normal existence is thrown into a blender of accusations, rumors, and curious stares.
“Their lives are completely turned upside down,” Dockery, best known for her six-season run on Downton Abbey, tells EW. “The show asks how far you would go for your family.”
Although the mystery at the center of Defending Jacob is strung together with the kind of precision reserved for the best dramas on television today, it’s less of a whodunit than it might seem on the surface. This thriller is just as much about the toll such an accusation can take on a family, and what happens when parents start to doubt their own child’s innocence. “Laurie goes through so many different emotions, and the guilt was something that was there in the text,” Dockery says. “Something that was very important to portray is the guilt that you feel as a parent in any situation, but particularly this. ‘Why are we in this situation? Where did it go wrong?'”
Over the course of eight episodes, as the Barber family is put through the wringer, Laurie and Andy will learn just as much about each other as they will about their son, because Jacob’s not the only one with secrets.