Roush Review: Give Katherine Heigl the Benefit of the ‘Doubt’

Doubt - Dule Hill as Albert Cobb, Steven Pasquale as Billy Brennan, and Katherine Heigl as Sadie Ellis
Monty Brinton/CBS
Pictured (L-R) Dule Hill as Albert Cobb, Steven Pasquale as Billy Brennan and Katherine Heigl as Sadie Ellis

If you’re expecting the second coming of The Good Wife in the new legal drama Doubt, you won’t find it on CBS. For that, you’ll have to subscribe to the network’s All Access digital screening service to watch The Good Fight, which I’ll be addressing later this week.

But set your sights a smidge lower, to the frothier genre stylings of Shonda Rhimes with a bit of David E. Kelley-style grandstanding thrown in, and Doubt is likely to erase many of your own doubts. From former Grey’s Anatomy writers, this easy-to-take blend of hardboiled legal procedural and soft-focus romantic mystery is a much better vehicle for Grey’s vet Katherine Heigl than the recent NBC misfire State of Affairs. As impassioned (what else) lawyer Sadie Ellis, Heigl gets to spar and strategize in court, banter in the workplace (mostly with her colleague Dule Hill, always a treat) and make reluctant googly eyes at her main client, Billy Brennan, a dashing McDreamy of a pediatric surgeon played by Rescue Me‘s charming Steven Pasquale.

Billy, a paragon from a political family, has been charged with the murder of a college girlfriend nearly a quarter-century ago, and when he’s not buttering up Sadie with gushy compliments—”You fight like most people breathe, it’s your natural state”—or crossing the line of client privilege by moving in for a kiss,  he fights her advice to settle for reasonable doubt. Determined to prove his innocence, he reminds you of the show’s title when Billy declares, “I want there to be no doubt.” Get it? Unfortunately for him, if not for the show, the twists of the plot don’t always work in his favor.

Dule Hill and Katherine Heigl

Pictured (L-R) Dule Hill as Albert Cobb and Katherine Heigl as Sadie Ellis.

Thankfully, this heavy-breathing case is only one layer of the Doubt legal docket. Sadie’s firm, led by longtime activist crusader/cheerleader Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould), also features the statuesque Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black) as Cameron, a trans lawyer with a penchant for defending compelling underdogs. In the premiere, her schizophrenic client is played with heartbreaking authenticity by Broadway actor Adam Chanler-Berat, and whenever Cox commands the spotlight on his behalf, you momentarily forget this isn’t really her show. (Give her, and the industry, time.)

Other co-workers seem more in tune with CBS’s addiction to formula. Dreama Walker is Iowa-born Tiffany, alternately defensive and insecure about her heartland roots. Kobi Libii (Madam Secretary) is the newbie, Nick, with a chip on his shoulder about his ex-con past. His jailhouse mentor is played by the great Judith Light (Transparent), whose connection to the main characters reveals itself slowly but memorably.

The dangerous career-suicide flirtation between Sadie and Billy gives Doubt its sudsy juice, but it’s the efficiently entertaining courtroom fireworks that give the show its heart and soul. It’s never as frantically ridiculous as How to Get Away With Murder has become, but it’s also a bit more ordinary, and never as slickly sophisticated as The Good Wife. By CBS’s recent standards for drama, that still makes this one a win. Doubt it? Watch for yourself.