Preview: Fairly Legal 1×1

Fairly dull

Fairly Legal

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network. Starts January 20th

Ooh look. Another show on USA Network. Wonder if it’ll be one of those “characters” ones. This one’s about a lawyer. How will it be a little off the wall and kooky, I wonder?

Well, the answer is it’s about an ex-lawyer, not a lawyer. The show stars Sarah Shahi of Life not-quite-fame as lawyer Kate Reed, who gives up her life as a lawyer to become a mediator: she sits down with both parties to a law suit and tries to work out a settlement that works in both their favours, without recourse to lawyers and an expensive trial.

At least, that’s what it should be like in practice. Because this being a TV series, you don’t expect Kate to just sit there and chat to people, do you? No, she has to do some investigating and figure out the truth and make things right and just and stuff.

Oh, and because this is the USA Network, she’s got to live on her dead dad’s house boat, have an on-again, off-again relationship with her ex-husband (Michael Trucco from BSG), be employed by her step-mother, have a personal geek assistant who plays D&D and solve all these problems with charm and idiosyncrasy.

What’s it called? Well, because Kate is fair of face (“Less lawyer, more appeal” as the poster tagline goes) and because she’s only loosely associated with the legal process now, it’s called Fairly Legal. Hmm.

Hey, you know what else the poster says? “Don’t go to court – go to Kate!”

Hanging’s too good for them. Queue the trailer.

FAIRLY LEGAL stars Sarah Shahi (“Life,” “The L Word”) Michael Trucco (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Castle”), Virginia Williams (“Revenge of the Bridesmaids,” “How I Met Your Mother”) and Baron Vaughn (“The Other Guys,” “Law & Order”). Shot on location in Vancouver, BC, the series will premiere with a 90-minute episode followed by nine, one-hour episodes.

FAIRLY LEGAL centers on Kate Reed (Shahi), a top litigator who became frustrated with the endless bureaucracy and injustice she witnessed on a daily basis and decided to become the ultimate anti-lawyer: a mediator. Using her knowledge of the law, along with intuition and a whatever-it-takes approach to resolving conflict, Kate finds the middle ground for a wide variety of adversaries — from Fortune 500 corporations to bitter divorcees. After the death of her father, she finds herself at odds with her new boss, her stepmother Lauren (Williams)…and in bed with her soon-to-be ex-husband Justin (Trucco), himself a lawyer in the DA’s office. Helping her keep all of this chaos at bay is her trusted, geek-chic assistant Leonardo (Vaughn).

Recurring guest stars include Richard Dean Anderson (“Stargate SG-1,” “MacGyver”) in the role of David Smith, a man who has a mysterious connection to Kate’s late father; Ethan Embry (“Brotherhood,” “House, M.D.”) portrays Spencer, Kate’s younger brother and a new father; and Gerald McRaney as Judge Nicastro, who has no tolerance for Kate’s lack of regard for the legal establishment. Other guest stars this season include Ken Howard, Peter MacNicol, Clyde Kusatsu and Anne-Marie Johnson.

Is it any good?
As shows go, this is pretty generic stuff. Normally, with a pilot, you expect them to go out of their way to show you the peaks the show can offer, but this contains almost no surprises whatsoever and largely relies on Shahi and the rest of the cast trying to inject some life into the proceedings.

Rather than this be an origins episode in which we see Kate give it all up, instead we get to see Kate in the middle of life as usual, bar the fact her father has just died. So she’s a mediator at a law firm her step-mother now runs. She has a house boat to live on thanks to her dad. Her ex is still around and they have an on-again, off-again relationship. Her brother’s given up being a lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad, while his wife is running around the country. And all of this is established with clunky, explanatory dialogue of the form “Hey brother, how are you enjoying being a stay-at-home dad? Because I’m busy moping about after dad died and God, I hate working for our step mom, Lauren, who now manages the firm.”

So there are no real surprises, no sudden dramatic turns, no real anything, in fact – unsurprising, given this is from one of the men behind Picket Fences, a show that took “nothing happens” to an all-new level.

The fact the pilot is an hour and a half doesn’t do it any favours either. I can’t remember a pilot dragging so much in ages. There’s a half-hour when nothing happens worth mentioning, where you think surely they must wrap up these plot threads soon. But no, it plods along, adding on extra negotiation after extra negotiation to fill the runtime.

The negotiations give you an idea of the show. We have a father-son business and the father doesn’t trust his son to run the business after he has a car accident and tries to drop the charges against the other (black) drivers. Except black driver is really harmless and wants to go to Harvard! Kate must right this wrong now! Then there’s the oh-so-wacky case of the man whose marriage proposal was ruined by the cupcake maker, the waiter and the singer (? I can’t remember), whom he’s now suing. If only Kate can show them that love will get them through this!

That paragraph really needed the exclamation marks to inject some excitement into things, because the script didn’t.

The show really rests on its cast, since the set-up and the scripts are really nothing special. Shahi is good and winning, although the producers play the “isn’t she pretty?” card once too often. Trucco has little to do apart from take his shirt off, be admired by passing women, and leave “very important files” in very obvious places for Kate to find. Gerald McRaney does have fun as a judge with little tolerance for Kate but Virginia Williams is barely noticeable. We are at least promised Richard Dean Anderson in later episodes, but there’s no sign of him yet.

I might watch Fairly Legal again, I might not. At the moment, I’m favouring not, but the thought of RDA might just sway me.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.