'Fairly Legal' season premiere: Lawyers and cross-dressers and 'Wizard of Oz' references, oh my!

Sarah-Shahi-LegalImage Credit: Alan Zenuk/USA NetworkThose brilliant engineers in the USA Network Show Laboratory have invented an airtight formula for TV escapism. First, cast a talented actor with a checkered TV past — Matthew Bomer, Jeffrey Donovan, and Mark Feuerstein had all starred in their fair share of failed TV series pre-White Collar, Burn Notice, and Royal Pains. Second, give the actor a vintage TV profession — cop, lawyer, doctor, spy — but sprinkle in some cable-ready eccentricity. Finally, send them to a glossy locale populated almost entirely by attractive people and wisecracking sidekicks, and voila: Brain candy! At first blush, the new legal dramedy Fairly Legal seems like a perfectly prefabricated USA treat, but the season premiere took some interesting chances … although I’m not sure the whole package is there quite yet.

First, the good stuff. Series star Sarah Shahi is a pretty wonderful actress. She was good on the earlier seasons of The L Word. She had one of the great Sopranos guest-star appearances (playing a redemptive Vegas stripper). Most recently, she had a nifty, shortlived cop show on NBC with the unmarketable name Life. As Legal‘s lead character, Kate Reed, Shahi somehow makes you believe that the woman is simultaneously an anxious wreck and a brilliant mediator.

Actually, Kate’s profession is another high point of the show: Basing an entire series on the process of mediation is, if nothing else, a cool twist on the legal formula. At the end of the episode, as Kate was talking to her dead father’s ashes, she actually outlined a pretty complex view of the law: Whereas her attorney father believed wholly in the letter of law, she believes that “right” comes out of a back-and-forth human interaction. Fairly Legal has a clear perspective on mediation: It’s not just there as window-dressing.

Unfortunately, the other elements of the season premiere were sort of rickety. For one thing, the show can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a somber drama or a zippy legal quirkfest. Scenes of Kate racing in and out of a courtroom and actually being put in contempt of court by a judge who despises her seemed to come out of a sitcom. But the episode had other elements — a wrongfully-accused Yale-bound teenager from the ghetto, an extended meditation on Kate’s relationship with her dead father — that seemed to come out of a much older, more straightforward show about “Lawyers Who Really Care.”

The show had enough eccentric elements (like the constant references to The Wizard of Oz) to make me want to take another look. However, as a Bay Area native, I have to note that the show’s portrayal of San Francisco is extremely silly — except for the constant (greenscreened) shots of the Transamerica Pyramid and an out-of-nowhere cross-dressing plot twist, the show might as well be set in Anytown, USA. (Or, more to the point, Vancouver.) That’s kind of a bummer, especially considering that fellow USA show Burn Notice and In Plain Sight get so much mileage out of their settings (Miami and Albuquerque, respectively).

PopWatchers, did you check out Fairly Legal?

Read More From EW:

‘Fairly Legal’ star Sarah Shahi talks hooking female viewers (Men: she thinks you’re easy)


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  • IAA Leo

    I watched it. I liked it – It’s not on it’s feet yet, but I think it will get there. Leo is my favorite character – the dungeons and dragons voice on the phone to the cop was my favorite scene (I hope they bring the actor playing the cop in that scene back) I hope they give Leo more to do in the future.

  • Josie

    I think sarah Shaihi is a wonderful actress. I adored her in Life. But I found the pilot kind of meh. It didn’t grab me the way that the pilot of In Plain Sight did. I’ll probably give it another shake next week though — Shahi deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  • jfms777

    Shahi is excellent. She makes it worth it. The actor playing Leo is fine, too. But much seemed like formula. And her running around the city was too much. Let’s hope scripts get stronger.

  • @Nomentionofkev

    Sarah Shahi is an incredible actor and out of the gate has presented an engaging character. While I agree this is just the series first episode and a little rough as the writers figure out what the show is and how to write it, it is still one of the strongest premieres this year.
    Excited Sarah is back on TV, because, let’s face it, not only does she have the actor thing going for her, she is easy on the eyes….

  • Rachel

    Leo was amaaaaazing!! I really liked Fairly Legal, and will definitely watch again next week. Shahi was a GREAT pick. She’s hilarious.

  • Marie

    I loved the Wizard of Oz references!! At first they kind of annoyed me, but it got better as time went on!! I really liked the show, a lot more than i thought I would!!

  • Meg

    I enjoyed it and watched it pretty much only because it’s a USA formula and so far, USA is 100% with me on original series. It’ll probably take me awhile to really get into it as I do Psych and In Plain Sight, but I thought it was good; there’s lots of potential and I think it’s important for viewers to see the potential rather than to be presented with everything right out of the gate.

  • Mindy

    I think you forgot to mention how much mileage “White Collar” gets out of their setting: NYC. The photography is one of the best elements of that show. Conventional setting, but shot absolutely beautifully.
    I am not sure about “Fairly Legal”. I am a bit tired of the “female character’s personal life is a mess, but she is great at her job!” story.

  • Valerie

    I semi-liked the show. It was to busy showing her being late for appointments. Shahi did a great job as portaying the SF life from running from Sausalito boat life to the Market Street lawyers’ offices.

  • naoma

    I watched the episode. San Francisco is a favorite city of mine and the scenes were great. Loved those Louboutin shows — she must earn a bundle with her work!

    • naoma

      Excuse me. In my haste I misspelled

  • Claire

    Completely agree with this review. I was a big fan of “Life” and generally love all the new USA shows, but had a harder time getting into this one, though I’ll definitely keep watching for now. It seemed to falter most when it jumped too abruptly from straight drama to ‘Ally McBeal’ at its most cartoonish (for example, being put in contempt for being 4 minutes late… on which note, why did no-one even _mention_ the ankle monitor? because this was so common?) but hopefully that will improve over time.

  • Lauren

    I just watched this on hulu & really liked it. I love the relationships set up but I hope they give Lauren some more “rounding”. Love Justin & Kate. Now I just need to fit it into my tv sched as it seems, Hulu won’t be airing future eps immediately.

  • Deanna McCoy

    Wasn’t impressed. I think they were shooting for the legal version of Covert Affairs and really missed the mark. It neither pulled at my heartstrings nor made me laugh. I thought it was all over the place and I thought she was just so-so in it. Needs to pick up next week or I think it could be headed for trouble.

  • Susan Spar

    As a professional mediator, I am very excited about FL. Yes, it’s “Hollywood” (which it does very well), but it also very clearly sends the message that there are powerful alternatives to litigation. If the show can raise awareness that mediation can resolve problems before they escalate to running for an attorney and the courthouse, it will be a great public service. Wishing it a very long and successful run.

  • Lynn

    I completely agree with the comments that noted this show was “cartoonish” and “all over the place.” Train wreck would also be an adequate description. Sarah Shahi is a beautiful woman and a great actress, though she tried to make too much of out the material that, at times, seemed to be doing 100 mph and just come to a dead stop. I felt she had zero chemistry with the ex-husband, that the evil step-mother has been played to death on TV, and that none of the cases on this show will ever really matter because Kate will always end up merrily skipping down the road in her fancy shoes despite her (or the writers’) best efforts to make me care about the previous 41 minutes.

    • Snowbird

      I think the dynamic with the step-mother will be interesting. Sarah’s character just “hates” her because she made her father so happy. How evil can that be?

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