More than a decade after Matthew McConaughey immortalized defense lawyer Mickey Haller on the big screen, Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer book series gets the serialized TV treatment. Headed by showrunner Ted Humprey, a real-life lawyer who put his stamp on six seasons of The Good Wife, and prolific TV producer David E. Kelley, Netflix's series version of The Lincoln Lawyer re-introduces us to the attorney that runs his law practice out of the back of his car, this time complete with all the idiosyncrasies that made Connelly's books so popular.
"If you're adapting one of the books into a two-hour movie, you're losing a lot of the nuance and the depth of the characters in service of that 110-page limit," Humprey tells Metacritic. "It's great to have the broader canvas to do justice to the characters and the stories."
The series stars Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mickey. He is joined by Neve Campbell and Becki Newton as the titular lawyer's two ex-wives, Maggie McPherson and Lorna Taylor, with whom he has complicated but ongoing relationships.
Perhaps the most anticipated inclusion to this 10-episode endeavor is the author himself, who participated in the process of turning his sophomoric Haller book into the first season of the television series.
"Michael was in the writers' room as much as he possibly could be," says Humphrey. "He was very much an active part of the process, wanting to make it as great as possible. And I think he really sees the series as part of his oeuvre of work, right up there with the novels."
Here, Metacritic talks to Humphrey about collaborating with Connelly, creating an authentic adaptation for the book lovers, and the pressure of putting your stamp on a beloved franchise.
Let's talk about the inception of the TV adaptation. What was your relationship to the books and how did the series come together?
My relationship to the books was just as a long-time fan and a reader of all of Michael's work. Once the opportunity came to adapt these books, I jumped at it because I think Michael's books are incredible page-turners. What we've tried to do with this is adapt these great suspenseful edge-of-your-seat, can't-wait-to-see-what-happens-next books into that version of a TV show.
What is the degree of Michael Connelly's involvement?
It's pretty high. I have adapted other things in the past where the writer of the book keeps himself at arm's length and probably secretly cringes at the terrible things you do to their work. Michael's not like that at all. Michael wants to be involved. Michael is not precious about the books — he's precious about the characters and the aspects of the books that are timeless and important, but he's the first to say, "Hey, what would work better than what we did in the book is if we did this?" He so often says, "That's better than what's in the book," which is really refreshing. And he views the series as his opportunity to write the books again and have fun changing the stories up. And we do change the stories up a great deal.
I think it's probably pretty rare, but it's the best way to do it, because you have with you the oracle of all things Mickey Haller. You always have the ultimate authority that you can refer to and say, "Would Mickey do this or that?" And when you get Michael's blessing, you feel like, "I've done right by this character." The last thing I would want to do is do damage to a beloved character.
Why start with the second book, The Brass Verdict?
The main reason is that if you're starting a TV show, introducing a character when they are at their lowest ebb and then telling what amounts to something of a redemption story, that's just a really compelling place to start a series. It's easy to sink your teeth into and relate to that character and root for that character when you're starting them at that place.
On a practical level, the movie told the story of the first book, so part of it was also thinking, "Well, let's not repeat that." But that said, we incorporate elements of the first book into the first season.
What were some of those elements you were able to keep in by doing 10 episodes instead of a movie?
One of the things that Michael does so well in the books is the complicated legal nuance and strategy to what Mickey does. A lot of it, in a traditional movie format, goes over the head of the viewer, or you have to dramatize it in some expositional way, where people are explaining things to one another that they already know, which is never good. The series gave us the opportunity to delve into that nuance and present it to the audience in a clever and fun way. And really draw, in some cases, directly from some of the clever dialogue and thought processes in the book.
Another one is the verisimilitude of L.A. I always feel like the best drama is very specific in time and place. Even if time and place is outer space, it's specific to that time and place. Michael was a journalist for the L.A. Times and has lived here most of his life. Michael's world is very specific to Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles of today is somewhat different from the Los Angeles of when the books were written, 10 or 15 years ago. So, doing a series gave us the opportunity to delve into the verisimilitude of L.A. today and update certain things from the books.
You also get to delve into the relationships of the people around Mickey.
Very much — to some extent, almost more than the books can because you've got this great ensemble of actors, so you write for them and use them to build out your world. ... My favorite part of doing television is the collaboration with the other writers, with the actors, with the directors — that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Michael's written a series of books where there's a very complicated series of relationships. This is a guy who has two ex-wives who are both a big part of his life. One of them he works with, and she's marrying another person that he works with. And then the other one who he is on literally the opposite side of the table from, in that he's a defense attorney and she's a prosecutor. They don't see eye to eye professionally or personally much of the time, and yet they co-parent their daughter.
These are really complicated but very real and modern circumstances that people find themselves in. It was very important not only to keep the relationships, but to expand upon them.
The movie decided not to explore Mickey Haller's Latino heritage. How did you decide to make it part of the series?
It was very important to us because the character of the books is Mexican American and has a very similar backstory to the backstory that we've given the character in the show. So, you have this character in the books who is biracial and who is multicultural. And that's a very authentic L.A. thing and very authentic American thing. In the movie, they chose for whatever reason not to do that. That was 10 years ago. In the series, it was very important to us to honor that. But once you do that, the show's not about that. The fact that the main character is biracial colors certain scenes in the show and the way that the character interacts with people, but it doesn't necessarily color the plot of the story. It's part of the show. It's not what the whole show is about.
What about Mickey Haller's addiction?
Yes, it was very important to honor that in a compelling and dramatic but authentic way. But, just like we're not a show about a guy's biracial heritage, we're not necessarily a show about addiction, either. It's an aspect of the show. I like to bring as much verisimilitude as possible. One of our writers is in recovery themselves, and we talk to other people that are in recovery and bring as much authenticity as we can to that aspect of it and do it in as dramatic and interesting and compelling a way as possible.
What's the pressure like of taking a character and book series that people feel passionate about and making it your own?
There is some pressure, definitely. That's where having Michael involved as an integral part of the process was so great, because you always feel at the end of the day, if Michael's happy, then how can anybody really be unhappy? Michael is the ultimate arbiter of what these things are, so if he feels like we've done justice to the characters in the world, then hopefully the readers who love the books will feel that way as well. And I think they've proven over time that they're willing to follow Michael pretty much wherever he takes them.
The Lincoln Lawyer is streaming now on Netflix.
Get to Know Ted Humphrey
Humphrey is best known for his work as a writer and executive producer on six seasons of The Good Wife (Metascore: 81), as well as a producer on The Nine (81), Incorporated (62), and Shark (60). Humphrey also created Wisdom of the Crowd (35).