• Ben Erickson

Your Honor (Season 1)

Review originally published in the March 2021 issue of Film Score Monthly

Your Honor is a limited series drama about a New Orleans judge, Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston), and his son, Adam (Hunter Doohan). Following an accidental hit-and-run by Adam, the two must work to dispose of the evidence once it is discovered that the victim was the son of prominent crime kingpin Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). The show was adapted by developer and producer Peter Moffat from the Israeli television series Kvodo. Feeding off the success of Breaking Bad, it spins an analogous story of a righteous man in Cranston brought low.

The music of Your Honor was written by German composer and pianist Volker Bertelmann, a.k.a. Hauschka, who is known for his prepared piano works. Bertelmann has collaborated frequently with composer Dustin O’Halloran (Lion, The Old Guard, and Ammonite), receiving major award nominations for their work together on the 2016 Lion, and has found more recent success in his solo film-scoring efforts with Adrift and Summerland.

Said Bertelmann, “Working on Your Honor was a huge pleasure. The showrunner Peter Moffat gave me a lot of freedom to experiment and in my collaboration with director Edward Berger on the first three episodes, we set the tonality for the show. I worked with him previously on Patrick Melrose and it is a gift to have had him as a collaborator once again. The diversity that the score demanded granted me the opportunity to experiment with many different instruments and that is what I love most about the process of creating a score. I experimented with numerous prepared piano sounds, diverse percussion instruments, a bass clarinet, and recorded a lot of breathing noises and textures—all of which are featured on the soundtrack. I am very thankful that I could be a part of such a well-crafted series.”

I felt it would be nice to include this little press release since, regrettably, I have nothing good to say about the music for Your Honor. Despite the experimentation and the diverse array of sounds described, and my many attempts to ‘get inside’ the score, I could not find so much as a whisper of appeal. I have tried actively listening to the score, frequently losing focus by the midway mark. I have tried playing the music on repeat in the background while engaged in work. Nothing has broken through. Nothing about the music has held my attention for even the slightest moment.

The score takes after its elite political drama forebears, using elements of paradigmatic thrilled scores (e.g. tense, agitated strings) and high-society Washington brass. The strings are grainy. The trumpets dying. Bertelmann’s signature prepared piano details are lost amidst percussive rumblings and electronic components. Set-piece moments you might look forward to are nowhere to be found and thematic entries lack integrity enough to earn recognition. If “Burial” is meant to argue for the strength of the score, it fails.

I do not doubt the composer’s creative potential. I am sure that were I to listen to some of Bertelmann’s solo albums, I would discover well-engineered, engrossing feats of art. However, Your Honor feels like studio-mandated work at its worst. The definition of underscoring, where music is meant to be present but not heard. Yuck. It feels as though Bertelmann was hired solely for his gimmick, selling a product to his fanbase, and not because the producers wanted the music to be in any way impactful to the narrative.

More’s the pity when you consider that the show had the weight of Bryan Cranston pitted against Michael Stuhlbarg and Hope Davis in a contemporary mafia story. There was a lot of potential, and whether it was the studio or just Bertelmann desiring to stay put in his own little sandbox, the score is consumed by its own floundering boredom. Ironically, the most engaging musical contribution heard in Your Honor is the inclusion of “Sull'aria ... che soave zeffiretto”, a soprano duet from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The duettino appears at the end of the pilot, punctuating the crux of the show as the Desiato family settles in to watch the superior The Shawshank Redemption and bookending the score in the concluding scene of the series finale.