Reasonable Doubt’s Messy Chaos Is Its Charm

Photo: courtesy of Hulu.
When Reasonable Doubt premiered on Hulu in late September, viewers were immediately sucked into the sizzling legal drama hinged on the many exploits of star criminal defense attorney Jax Stewart (the sublime Emayatzy Corinealdi). The new series, created by Raamla Mohamed and executive produced by Kerry Washington (who famously played Olivia Pope, one of Hollywood’s other favorite Black women lawyers), is sexy, dramatic, and downright funny, an exploration of the multi-faceted nature of a Black woman just trying to be the very best version of herself on all fronts — to mixed results. Jax is a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but she’s also a total mess outside of work, and that contradiction is exactly why we love her. After all, perfection is sooo boring. 
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Even those of us who are wary of the American judicial system (for good reason) can put aside our natural suspicion towards the law and admit it: Reasonable Doubt is a really good show. It’s not the first of its kind by any means— legal dramas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood — but the Hulu series taps into a genre that we’ll always go up for: Black women living and loving in all their complexities. Jax is our protagonist, an L.A. born and bred criminal defense attorney who seems like she has it all; on top of a successful career, Jax also has a hot husband (Hit the Floor’s McKinley Freeman), two beautiful children, and a tight knit group of best friends that she’s been close with since she was a teenager. From the outside looking in, Jax seems to be living the dream. But we know better.
Behind closed doors, Jax’s life is actually coming apart at the seams. Her seemingly perfect marriage is on the rocks, with her workaholic tendencies putting a strain on her relationship, and that same job is now pushing her to her limits. She’s leading a defense case for Brayden Miller (Sean Patrick Thomas), a Black billionaire accused of murdering his employee/girlfriend, and the evidence is looking like Jax might be forced to take her first L in a while. When it rains, it pours — the first loss that she took as a lawyer has also comes back to haunt her in the handsome form of Damon Cooke (Mr. Steal Your Girl himself, Michael Ealy, looking as oppressively fine as ever), a former client with whom she has a pretty…unconventional (read: downright unprofessional) connection. To make things worse, Jax definitely has a stalker after a one night stand gone wrong.
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Like I said. Chaos.
The stress of Jax’s life is enough to make you shout at your television because almost all of it is the result of the questionable choices she makes episode after episode. Jax is incredibly smart, known for her razor sharp instincts and unorthodox methods of getting things done, but she’s also extremely reckless; from withholding evidence that is crucial to the investigation to sleeping with her security guard while her husband watches on their CCTV (yes, you read that right), Jax does whatever she wants no matter the consequences. It can be frustrating to watch, but it’s also absolutely delightful, especially in a world where there are so many rules about how Black women are supposed to behave.
“White women on TV and in film get to make bad decisions all the time,” Corinealdi told Unbothered during an interview at our office in New York. “They get to be messy, to be super sexual, but when Black women do it, we’re deemed as something else. That’s why I think it’s so wonderful that we get to experience Jax living fully — we need to see more Black women not being demonized for being complete, complicated people.”
Reasonable Doubt EP Washington attributes Jax’s complexity to Corinealdi’s acute ability to bring nuance to every single scene. Corinealdi has been in the acting business for years, but the Hulu series finally brings her center stage, and she’s killing it in the lead role. “A big reason why this works onscreen is because of Emayatzy,” Washington praised the actress and friend, bringing a bashful grin to Corinealdi’s face. “She's so talented and skilled as an actor that you do really experience Jax’s humanity, and it doesn't feel like disconnected messiness. It feels like a person, a real person who's struggling and navigating life. That's obviously in the writing, but it's also really, really tied to her performance because she's so human and real and grounded, so the choices feel like they're coming from somewhere.”
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It’s only natural that Washington would feel that way about Corinealdi and about Jax, given that she herself played one of the most beloved hot messes in Hollywood for seven seasons on ABC original series Scandal. Protagonist (and sometimes antihero) Olivia Pope, the popcorn-eating and red wine-guzzling gladiator in a suit, was just as rash, doggedly following her own sketchy moral compass even when it was obvious that it was broken at times. (Stealing a presidential election? Sleeping with the President of the United States, a whole married man? Killing people?!) Olivia’s intentions were always good, she constantly insisted, but her means didn’t always justify the ends. Still, we loved her anyway, morally corrupt tendencies and all, because she didn’t play by the rules. Olivia wasn’t interested in being likable or friendly or perfect; she just wanted to be herself and to do good where she could – even if that meant doing a little bad to get there. (Okay, a lot of bad.)
There’s a connection between Jax and Olivia’s stories, a line threading their unique narratives together. If you ask Washington, she’ll tell you that Jax is Olivia 2.0, an intelligent and ambitious woman with a more grounded head on her shoulders, likely because she knows that she has more to lose. In addition to having a family to support and protect, Jax also has a group of close girlfriends — Black women — who will always keep it real with her, even when it hurts. (Olivia could’ve benefited from some homegirls when she decided to get romantically involved with the Presidentor Jake Ballardor both men at the same time. Lots of mistakes were made.) But as much as Jax can be considered the more evolved version of Olivia, there’s room for both of them in the Black Lady Lawyer zeitgeist, right alongside overachievers like Molly Carter (Insecure), murderous law professors like Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder), love-obsessed attorneys like Joan Clayton (Girlfriends), and working moms with impeccable style like Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show). We can have them all, and we will. Black girl chaos is canon. 
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“What we’re aiming to do at my production company Simpson Street is to really try to upend this idea of ‘other’,” shared Washington. “Everybody is at the center of the story of their lives. In Reasonable Doubt, we have this Black woman who's managing all these things that we just toss off in the world as ‘Black girl magic’ as if it's easy, but managing all of this is a task.”
“This human life is challenging, and to put that challenge — the real, raw challenge of being a Black woman and being successful and being married and looking for love and being a parent — at the center of the story empowers all of us to know that we deserve to be at the center of our story,” she continued. “Society's constantly trying to marginalize women and marginalize Black folks, but every time we say ‘no,’ we put ourselves at the center. We get to stand in the middle and be the hero of our own journey.”
With the first season of Reasonable Doubt officially wrapped, this creative duo promises even more drama and scandal (see what I did there?) for fans to get caught up in if the show is greenlit for more episodes. Jax will continue to make more mistakes and look good doing it — come on, you see the 'fits — but more importantly, she’ll keep being authentically herself, no matter what anyone else thinks. 
“Many seasons in, I’d imagine that Jax will still be just as stringent in her choices and the way that she does things,” mused Corinealdi. “And we’ll probably still be on this journey of judging her for making those choices. [laughs] But I think Jax will be trying to find a way to get to where she's going without stepping on as many toes. Ultimately, though, she’s gotta stay true to herself. She is who she is: a confident Black woman who’s going to do what she believes is best in any given situation. So I think we’d see her making more of those kinds of decisions and having our own opinions about her being right…or not.”
Catch the first season of Reasonable Doubt now streaming on Hulu and ABC

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