Fairly Legal [Thursdays, 10/9] is the new, quasi-legal series from the USA Network and the first USA series to really be a fluffy time-waster.
Kate Reed [Sarah Shahi, Life] used to be a lawyer at her father’s prestigious firm but quit because she found the black or white of law to sometimes not result in justice. Now she’s a mediator, working for the firm – which, following her father’s death, is now run by her stepmother, Lauren Reed [Virginia Williams, How I Met Your Mother]. She has a handsome ex-husband, Justin Patrick [Michael Trucco, Battlestar Galactica] who works in the D.A.’s office and a loyal friend, Leonardo Prince [Baron Vaughn], who covers for her whenever she’s running late – which is almost always. And she lives on a boat.
Fairly Legal almost starts off with a bang as Kate awakens in bed next to her ex and the ringing of her cell phone – which shows the caller to be The Wicked Witch [Kate assigns her speed dial list names from The Wizard of Oz for no apparent reason]. From there, she is caught in an attempted robbery at the coffee shop where’s stopped to get her morning caffeine fix – and mediates the situation!
The series premiere finds Kate assigned by Judge Nicastro [Gerald McRaney] to mediate a situation involving an engaged couple and the three people whom they allege ruined his proposal. Then her stepmother asks her to mediate a dispute between a clothing magnate [Ken Howard] and his son [Patrick Gilmore] – a dispute that could cost the firm their business.
The short version is this: Fairly Legal is like a tiny, fluffy cloud in USA’s blue sky. Despite several instances that should evoke melancholy, or anxiety [like the fact that the firm is losing clients], the entire pilot feels like it’s being kept from drifting off by the slenderest of threads.
The premiere was written by series creator/showrunner Michael Sardo, who has worked on The Tracey Ullman Show and Picket Fences, but doesn’t begin to approach either, in terms of humor or drama. What makes Fairly Legal’s first ep work is a series of really good performances.
Shahi, who was very effective on NBC’s Life, has a natural flair and a really deft sense of timing. She manages to make Kate interesting and likable despite the character’s surprisingly self-centeredness. Trucco doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the debut but hits the right notes as both Kate’s ex and part of the D.A.’s office. Williams shows the merest hint of vulnerability under Lauren’s determination to keep the firm going. Vaughn is likable, but not compelling, as the guy who has Kate’s back at the firm.
Director Bronwyn Hughes works the cast’s charisma with great angles and lighting, and keeps the pace up well enough that some of the ep’s absurdities get by.
If Fairly Legal does well, it will be because of Shahi and the lead-in of Royal Pains [a much better show].
Final Grade: C+