TV Review: USA’s New ‘Fairly Legal’ Works Due to Charming Lead

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CHICAGO – The second wacky legal show debut of the week (after NBC’s awful “Harry’s Law”) is the fairly good “Fairly Legal,” a show that works largely due to the incredible charm of its lead, Sarah Shahi (“Life”). Continuing the formula that has turned the USA network into one of the biggest TV success stories of the last decade, “Fairly Legal” is what critics like to call “promising.” It’s far-from-great but could get there with some work. Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

The USA formula is simple — beautiful people playing quirky characters. Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”), Piper Perabo (“Covert Affairs”), Mary McCormack (“In Plain Sight”), Matthew Bomer (“White Collar”) — Sarah Shahi fits perfectly in the network’s line-up of genetically-blessed lead characters and she brings the same charisma and likability that she did to the sadly-underrated “Life.” She’s great and the main reason to check out “Fairly Legal.”

Sarah Shahi in Fairly Legal
Sarah Shahi in Fairly Legal
Photo credit: USA

Shahi plays Kate Reed, a litigator who left the world of injustice behind to become a mediator. She works at the company founded by her father, who has recently passed at the beginning of the premiere. The company is now being run by her stepmother Lauren (Virginia Williams), a woman with a different worldview than Kate. She also butts heads (and other body parts) with her ex-husband/lawyer (Michael Trucco) while relying on her supportive assistant Leonardo (Baron Vaughn).

Fairly Legal
Fairly Legal
Photo credit: USA

The first episode features introductions to all these relationships along with a couple of cases for Sarah to mediate. It opens with a very-clever scene in which Sarah mediates a store robbery to a successful end for all sides. She can find a way to make everyone happy no matter the situation. In the premiere, she tries to come to terms with her stepmother’s management of the company while also mediating a couple of cases, including an unusual one involving a mysterious car accident.

The plot of the premiere feels a little bloated to pull it to an extended running time for the first episode. We get a lot of shots of Kate staring off into the distance and it feels like the pilot could have been tighter at a typical 44-minute length. Most of the best USA shows (“Royal Pains,” “Burn Notice”) are also some of the most well-paced on television. “Fairly Legal” doesn’t have that rhythm quite yet although it could develop it.

While Shahi is easily the best thing about the show, Williams, Trucco, and Vaughn are certainly not bad. They could develop into interesting supporting characters, something the program is going to need to work. “Burn Notice” is nothing without Sam and Fiona. “Royal Pains” needs a little Boris every now and then. “White Collar” doesn’t work without Mozzie. As much as the network has built their success around fascinating, gorgeous leads, the best programs are distinguished by their supporting casts and that’s another element that feels a bit underdeveloped in the premiere of “Fairly Legal.”

Ultimately, the pilot of “Fairly Legal” passes the only test that it needs to: I’ll watch it again next week. The most important element of a program like this one, especially on USA, is in place in Sarah Shahi’s performance. Only time will tell if the program around her can rise to her level.

‘Fairly Legal,’ which airs on USA, stars Sarah Shahi, Michael Trucco, Virginia Williams, and Baron Vaughn. The show premieres on January 20th, 2011 at 9PM CST. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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Fairly Legal, Harry's Law

You only call this show “fairly good” and “Harry’s Law” “awful” because you are reviewing David Kelley and not the show. HL is a wonderful show and if “Fairly Legal” had Kelley’s name on it you would be panning it as well. The critics have been relentless in their attacks on Kelley. For some reason you guys have painted a big target on his back. HL is a great refreshing departure to the crap that is on network television and I’m willing to bet that “Fairly Legal” is trite, boring television. That’s right, I’m forming my opinion ahead of time just like all the people that do that to the brilliant David E. Kelley.

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