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The Lincoln Lawyer is ‘The Bad Husband’ in this polished legal procedural with authenticity at its core

Rocketing to the top of the Netflix global chart, this new adaptation of Michael Connelly’s crime novels sees Mickey Haller’s Mexican-American heritage centred and celebrated. Amanda Whiting looks at a richer screen take on the ever-popular character

Monday 30 May 2022 09:38 BST
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ (Netflix)

The standout quality of The Lincoln Lawyer’s Mickey Haller is breezy, exasperating confidence in the face of really bad odds. In the winning new Netflix show – which shares its name with the Michael Connelly books it’s based on and the Matthew McConaughey legal thriller they spawned in 2011 – the defence attorney walks into his first trial in more than a year. Here, he boldly asserts his client can’t be guilty of “grand theft”, because the diamond necklace she snatched off a rich lady’s neck is actually a string of fake rocks. Is Mickey a former jeweller? No. Does he have any experience whatsoever in the gem trade? Of course not. Is he right? Damn straight, he is.

Mickey Haller, played by Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, is equal parts stubborn and scrupulous. He prefers to do things the hard way, which almost always works out. It drives the people who love him nuts, but it’s also – if six novels, a big-budget Hollywood movie, and the No 1 global series on Netflix are to be believed – what makes the character so enduringly appealing, and his stories so pleasurably low-stakes. Julianna Margulies gave us seven terrific seasons as The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick, a woman returning to the law after 13 years as a stay-at-home mother. Now, we get The Bad Husband trying to jumpstart a fizzled career.

“You know Mickey,” says Lorna, Mickey’s trusty legal assistant and long-suffering ex-wife, in the season premiere episode. She’s talking to Maggie, who also happens to be Mickey’s long-suffering ex-wife. “The only thing he likes more than a fight is a fight with one hand tied behind his back.”

The former Mrs Hallers (with Lorna played by Becki Newton and Maggie by Neve Campbell, who are saved in Mickey’s phone as “First Wife” and “Second Wife”) are debating the soundness of Mickey – coming back to law after a long hiatus – taking on a splashy double-murder case with a high-profile client. Not that Mickey would ever heed Maggie’s advice even if he was there to hear her misgivings.

Which isn’t to say Mickey Haller is a bad person – just too down on his luck to listen to caution. In this new TV adaptation, he’s recovering from an opioid addiction developed in the aftermath of a serious surfing accident. But his Los Angeles firm disintegrated while he was in treatment and his relationship with his teenage daughter suffered, too. When an old colleague bequeaths Mickey a thriving practice, the Lincoln Lawyer – so named because he prefers to do business either from the backseat of his vintage Lincoln Continental convertible or a glistening new Lincoln Navigator SUV – gets a second run at professional success. Just like that, no grovelling or scraping required.

Developed by The Good Wife producer Ted Humphrey and titan of legal TV David E Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal), the series is more than a straightforward rehashing of the movie. The Netflix show mostly sticks to the second book in Michael Connelly’s bestselling series and adopts the familiar shape of a TV legal procedural. As on The Good Wife, each episode is a mix of case-of-the-week intrigue that allows its characters the chance to show off their courtroom wiles and dramatic stories with longer arcs. It’s when Mickey’s navigating fatherhood and sobriety that his bravado falters long enough for us to glimpse the man Lorna and Maggie fell in love with.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ (LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX)

In another meaningful departure, Mickey is Mexican-American, a heritage that got buried under McConaughey’s casting. The Netflix series doesn’t just resurrect that aspect of the character but centres it. Garcia-Rulfo speaks English with the same Mexican accent more often associated with TV criminals than their iconoclast lawyers. It may be incidental to the plot that Mickey prefers tequila to whiskey, but his Hispanic roots contribute to a richer, more accurate depiction of LA than we’re used to seeing on screen.

What remains unchanged are Mickey’s plucky nonchalance and his obnoxious “NTGUILTY” vanity licence plate, which is impossible to imagine ever hanging on the bumper of Alicia Florrick’s minivan. But she started her great second act on the lowest rung of a humbling corporate ladder; Mickey magically inherits a place at the top. As compelling as it was to watch her claw her way up, it’s less demanding and more fun to watch a guy walk straight out of calamity and into their own miracle. If Alicia Florrick was a tribute to all the good wives and devoted mothers grinding to make their families work, Mickey Haller represents a fantasy as sexist as it is familiar: the bad husband who lucks into everything he needs in order to change.

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