Philly DA: Breaking the Law

Photograph: BBC iPlayer
Rating 8.6
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 8 x 50 mins

This brilliant eight-part documentary series follows the civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner, after his landslide win to be elected Philadelphia’s first progressive district attorney.

His journey to get there was laced with controversies: his bid to end mass incarceration and ending cash bail outs – which kept the poor in jail for extended periods before even being found guilty of a crime – was deemed ridiculous by the conservative opposition. But he showed determination to be on the side of the people, standing up against the law enforcement that imprisoned people for petty crimes like low-level marijuana possession, and non-violent offences.

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This might not sound that radical to you, but for Philadelphia, the fact that Krasner got elected (and by a landslide at that) was shocking. About on the same level as  getting a satisfying ending to a season of Line of Duty. However, it was part of a growing movement across the States, where people with progressive beliefs determined to reform the system were elected into prosecutorial positions that they would previously have avoided. The documentary makers Yoni Brook, Nicole Salazar and Ted Passon follow Kramer through this ground-breaking period, filming as both his character and his team are tested, making mistakes which saw his name dragged through the mud in the press.

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It is a surprisingly gripping series, reflecting on the contentious topics surrounding crime and punishment, and the fly-on-the-wall filmmaking gives us an intimate look at Krasner and his bold and seemingly unflappable character, barely batting an eyelid as he declares that sex workers shouldn’t be arrested, or that the death penalty should be abolished. He’s got his eyes on the prize at all times, and the prize is a progressive America. The series doesn’t, however, let us believe that the sun shines out of Krasner’s rear end, painting him a woke warrior, and though its makers were clearly on his side, they’re not afraid of showing the less positive aspects of his first term as district attorney. And they ought to be praised, too, for packing so much history into each episode, providing context for the shifts taking place on screen.

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian loves this series, calling it a “deeply thrilling, hopeful show to devour,” saying “there is a warmth running throughout,” but it “does not stray into hagiography.” The Financial Times’s Suzy Feay gives Philly DA five stars, saying “part of the joy of this series is the intellectual cut and thrust of its protagonists,” whilst The Times’s James Jackson calls Krasner “TV gold,” saying “The reactions on his staff’s faces made this feel almost like a comedy as Krasner nonchalantly dismissed the old rules.”

First shown June 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image or by clicking here.

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