Raamla Mohamed loves a great main title sequence. So in creating her new show “Reasonable Doubt,” she knew it needed to have one.
“I’m dating myself, but back when I was watching ‘Mad Men,’ I’d be going through these episodes, and I started dreaming about the theme song,” the veteran TV writer said in an interview. “I was so excited to hear it, and it got me in the mood for the show.”
Fittingly, the opening credits for “Reasonable Doubt” feel “Mad Men”-esque, with their bold colors and outlined shapes of law books and gavels cascading into sunny Los Angeles. Developed by Onyx Collective, Disney’s brand dedicated to work by creators of color, the legal drama stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Jax Stewart, a partner at a top corporate law firm representing rich and famous clients in Los Angeles.
Premiering Tuesday on Hulu, the nine-episode series follows Jax through a case involving her client Brayden Miller (Sean Patrick Thomas), a prominent Black tech CEO accused of murdering a former employee with whom he also happened to be having an affair. Jax’s complicated career is also spilling over into her messy personal life. As the title sequence and premise suggest, the show is full of soapy twists and turns — while also remaining grounded by exploring the intersection of race, gender, class and power within the legal system.
The character of Jax was inspired by entertainment lawyer Shawn Holley — one of the show’s executive producers, along with Larry Wilmore and Kerry Washington, the latter of whom also directed the pilot. Holley’s long career includes being on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, when she was a partner at Johnnie Cochran’s firm. Over the years, her roster of famous clients has included Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, The Game, Axl Rose, Mike Tyson, and the Kardashians and Jenners.
In addition to delving into the dynamics and ethical dilemmas of working in corporate law, “Reasonable Doubt” explores Jax’s past as a public defender, which is based on Holley’s early career as an LA public defender.
“A lot of times, when you watch a show and a woman’s already successful, you meet her, and she’s the smartest woman in the room, and she’s telling everyone what to do. But it was important to just have an episode when we see her be a public defender, and see her struggling and then figuring it out,” Mohamed said. “A lot of us, we work our way up. I started as an assistant getting food and coffee. I didn’t just become a showrunner magically. A lot of times, it takes years of hard work to get where you are — and that’s where the confidence comes. It comes from the experience.”
While “Reasonable Doubt” is Mohamed’s first show as creator and showrunner, it’s the culmination of years of experience as a TV writer, from Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal” to the Hulu adaptation of “Little Fires Everywhere.” Mohamed likes to say that while she received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern California, “I got a whole other master’s in the Shondaland-verse.”
Her first job in TV was as a production assistant in the writers room of “Grey’s Anatomy,” at the peak of the show’s success. “I was a huge ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ fan, to the point where I downplayed it in the interview because I didn’t want them to think I was a ‘Grey’s’ superfan,” Mohamed said with a laugh. “But yeah, obviously, I knew who Shonda was. There weren’t that many Black female showrunners — Shonda might have been the only one at the time. And [the show] was a giant hit. It was just like, ‘Oh, my goodness!’”
She worked on three more Shondaland shows, some short-lived, like “Off the Map,” created by former “Grey’s” writer Jenna Bans, and the fantasy drama “Still Star-Crossed.” In between, Mohamed was a writer on all seven seasons of “Scandal.”
From the start, she remembers taking in a lot of lessons from Rhimes and the “Grey’s” writers. As an assistant, she would listen to them discussing their ideas and Rhimes’ feedback on their scripts. “You hear why things change and what changes. And so it taught me a lot about writing and just storytelling in general,” Mohamed said. She also learned that, above all, the writing should “remain true to the characters. That’s the best thing you can do.”
From Rhimes, as well as from Bans and “Little Fires Everywhere” showrunner Liz Tigelaar, she saw the value of hiring “people who you can trust creatively to be there for you.”
“So I learned that: making sure I had people who I knew supported my vision and wanted to do the best show possible,” she said.
For “Reasonable Doubt,” Mohamed hired an all-Black writers room, and every episode was directed by a Black director. The writers drew from their lived experiences; many of them have been one of the few women or people of color at a workplace. Many of them have had to juggle their jobs with parenting. All of those aspects helped to fill out Jax’s storylines and the world of the show, Mohamed said.
She has a lot of big plans for the series, envisioning that each season could explore a different client and case. “You still get the best of both worlds. You get to be with the characters you love and are familiar with, but then you get this new influx of other characters you can look for,” she added.
It helps that the show was developed for streaming, allowing more room to explore the collision of Jax’s professional and personal lives. A more traditional legal drama would have had to be more about the case of the week, where “there’s not a lot of room to go home with your characters,” Mohamed said.
Her vision for the show was for Jax to get to be her whole self. “I felt like a lot of times in these legal shows, women are very serious. Or even just shows where a woman has a serious career, she’s tortured, she’s dark, she doesn’t laugh,” Mohamed said. “And so I met Shawn, and she just had this very bubbly, fun personality. The way she talked about law, she was excited about it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to see this type of person on screen.’”
Mohamed also thought about a lot of her friends working in high-powered and stressful professions. “But they [also] want to dance to Beyoncé, want to back that ass up, twerk, or whatever it is, at a party, and send funny videos and memes, and laugh,” Mohamed continued. “And so for me, all those things came together with Shawn’s job, and my personality, and my friends, and my experiences: to just show a woman who has a full life, who has a partner, and kids, and friends, and balancing all that. Because that’s what a lot of women I know are doing. And that’s what’s stressful, right? Having to be all the things, all the time.”
“Reasonable Doubt” premieres Tuesday on Hulu, with new episodes premiering weekly.