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Presumed Innocent





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

For years, Rusty Sabich’s second home was the courtroom.

As Chicago’s deputy district attorney, Rusty pitted his legal acumen against people accused of crimes most heinous. He and his team would settle behind the prosecutor’s table, call forth witnesses and, step by step, build a road that pointed directly to jail.

But now, he’s sitting behind the other table—the one for those accused crimes most heinous.

I didn’t kill her! He says. But the prosecutors don’t believe him. Perhaps they don’t even care. And if Rusty and his lawyers aren’t careful, the former deputy district attorney may find himself with a new home: The penitentiary.

Habeas Corpses

Let’s be transparent: Even if Rusty didn’t kill Carolyn Polhemus, he’s not exactly innocent. Carolyn was Rusty’s trusted co-worker, friend and, ultimately, lover. The torrid affair went on for, well, far too long.

Rusty’s wife learned about the affair and their marriage survived, just barely. But Rusty’s boss, District Attorney Raymond Horgan, knew nothing about it. So when Carolyn was murdered–and with Raymond locked in a bitter election battle–the D.A. assigned Rusty, his best attorney, to the case. Rusty, despite the obvious conflict of interest, accepted—and then tried to hide any evidence that might link him to the crime.

Well, Raymond lost re-election, and now the case is in the hands of the new D.A.—Rusty’s longtime rival, Nico Della Guardia. All that evidence is trickling into view, and Della Guardia’s own lieutenant, Tommy Molto, would love nothing more than to send Rusty to prison.

And Rusty gets it. The one-time deputy district attorney knows just how vulnerable Rusty, the alleged murder, would be in court. He knows how all those texts look—texts sent the day of the murder. He knows how incriminating the physical evidence is. He knows how he’d work the jury if he was working the case.

But now, sitting at that other table, he knows something else: He knows whether he killed Carolyn. And no one else—not Tommy, not Barbara, not even the Apple TV+ audience—does. Now it’s up to the legal system to ferret out the truth, too.

Miranda Wrongs

Presumed Innocent, based on the bestselling 1987 book by Scott Turow, is a compelling crime and legal whodunit—this time featuring the always-interesting Jake Gyllenhaal in its pivotal role. (It was also the subject of a 1990 movie starring Harrison Ford.)

But while this Apple TV+ limited series features strong performances and an engrossing plot, it’s just plain gross in other ways.

Remember, this story is predicated on acts of lurid sex and horrific violence, and Presumed Innocent is guilty of showing us plenty of both.

We don’t just hear about Rusty’s affair with Carolyn; we see it—frequently. The show stresses how passionate and aggressive the couple’s physical interactions were. And while Presumed Innocent avoids showing the most critical of body parts, it has no such qualms about wholesale skin exposure, including naked rear ends.

The aftermath is just as discomforting. Carolyn was killed by a blow to the head. And even before that killing stroke, her last moments seem to have been pretty appalling. When Rusty first arrives on the crime scene, a co-worker tells him, “You don’t want to go in there. It’s bad.” But no one makes any attempt to stop the Apple TV+ cameras from entering and scanning the corpse with close, clinical glee. While we don’t see the murder itself at this early juncture—obviously, the show aims to make us wonder if Rusty is guilty or not—its aftermath is seen repeatedly and, if you ask this reviewer, gratuitously.

And the language? Well, it fits right in with the rest of it.

Presumed Innocent takes us into a tawdry and terrible story and plays it out on screen. And while the show seeks to keep us guessing over Rusty’s guilt or innocence, we can pass verdict on the show itself. And the evidence is right in front of our faces.

(Editor’s Note: Plugged In is rarely able to watch every episode of a given series for review. As such, there’s always a chance that you might see a problem that we didn’t. If you notice content that you feel should be included in our review, send us an email at [email protected], or contact us via Facebook or Instagram, and be sure to let us know the episode number, title and season so that we can check it out.)

Episode Reviews

June 12, 2024 – S1, E1: “Bases Loaded”

Rusty is hanging out with his family by the pool when he receives a call, telling him that Carolyn’s been murdered. He’s soon put in charge of the investigation: D.A. Raymond Horgan hopes to have a suspect in custody before voters decide whether to keep him in office. But when the case stalls and Raymond loses re-election, the new regime combs through the evidence and finds that Rusty was closer to the victim than anyone thought.

We see just how close in several scenes depicting Rusty and Carolyn in sexual encounters—many with the two participants completely nude. And though we don’t see breasts or genitals, we do see the bare bum of one of the lovers. The sweaty, unbridled sex scenes are meant to be titillating—juxtaposed with Rusty’s more romantic and gentle encounters with his wife, Barbara. We learn that Barbara discovered the affair: “Our marriage barely survived this,” she reminds Rusty. “I barely survived this.” But she doesn’t know the whole truth of the matter—or that Carolyn was pregnant at the time of her death.

We see the aftermath of Carolyn’s murder in lurid detail, as well, hogtied in her underwear and dispatched with a blow to the head. We learn that Rusty and Carolyn previously prosecuted someone who allegedly killed his victim in a similar way (though in that killing, the victim was stabbed, not struck in the head). In court, Carolyn unpacks the brutal details of what the alleged killer did–how he kept the woman high on heroin for days (and resuscitated her three times when she overdosed) before tying her up and torturing her for another three days before killing her.

That alleged killer—whom Carolyn successfully sent to prison—tells Rusty that he would’ve “gladly crater[ed] her skull.” We see Carolyn’s dead body, bloodied and bruised. Bloody wounds cover Carolyn’s wrists and ankles where ropes were tied. Crime photos document both murders, and we see them in detail.

Carolyn’s memorial service is held in an impressive-looking church. Characters drink beer and hang out in bars. There’s a joke made about testicles. Rusty swims in swim trunks and hangs out wearing nothing but a towel. We learn that Rusty’s father cheated on his mother. Characters lie. We hear About 30 f-words and a smattering of other profanities, including one s-word, “d–n” and “d–k.” Jesus’ name is abused three times.

June 12, 2024 – S1, E2: “People vs. Rozat Sabich”

Barbara forces Rusty to prepare their two teenagers—Jaden and Kyle—for the storm about to come. That means that Rusty must confess to the affair and that he’ll likely be charged with her murder. Sure enough, police get a search warrant and confiscate all the computers in the Sabich home. An arrest soon follows.

We again see plenty of flashbacks to intimate encounters involving Rusty and Carolyn, most of which involve copious amounts of skin (but no overt nudity). Rusty’s kids are naturally furious with Rusty for the affair. And when one asks Barbara if she’s going to leave him, she admits that she doesn’t know. “Your father is a good man,” she says. “And I think he loved her. And that is very difficult for me.”

We learn that Bunny—the 26-year-old woman killed in a manner similar to Carolyn—had semen in her body from two different men. (One belonged to the man eventually convicted of the murder; the other was inconclusive, but the evidence was apparently hidden by Carolyn during the trial.) People examine photos of corpses and bloody crime scenes (which we are also exposed to). In a dream, Rusty struggles with Carolyn under water. (Both are wearing swimsuits.) Scenes involving sex are coupled with bloody images. Rusty grabs a doctor by the lapel.

Barbara smokes a cigarette. Rusty wipes fingerprints off the inside of a car. Characters say the f-word 25 times and the s-word four times. We also hear “p-ssed,” along with five misuses of God’s name (once with the word “d–n”).

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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