The formula for USA dramas seems to be “Adjective noun solves crime – bad weather = Hit!” And the network’s track record seems to prove the point: Burn Notice, White Collar and Covert Affairs are all smashes; Royal Pains and In Plain Sight still bring in audiences. But things may be turning, because Fairly Legal, USA’s take on lawyer dramas, is the first of those shows to lack even the comfort of sunshine and wacky crime fighting.
For starters, Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) isn’t a lawyer; she quit that profession to become a mediator at her recently deceased father’s firm. Now run by her stepmother (Virginia Williams)—who is saved in Kate’s phone as Wicked Witch of the West, complete theme music from The Wizard of Oz and a photo of Margaret Hamilton in greenface—the firm is struggling. But so is Sarah! See, even though she’s a mediator, her personal life is a mess. She lives on a houseboat; her hunky ex-husband (Michael Trucco) works in the DA’s office and they just can’t stay away from one another; she has an unorthodox way of working; and she believes in justice above profit. This isn’t your usual girl in Louboutins, the show practically screams in your ear.
Except she’s on USA. Kate is so rigged to explode the usual conventions of lawyer dramas that she becomes conventional herself. She’s always late for appointments, but finally rushes into courtrooms attractively flushed, offering excuses at a mile a minute and ready to get on with the work of resolving conflict. All except the conflicts in her own life! Those she dodges with the usual goofiness of beautiful women on TV trying to seem normal. She may be fair but tough on clients, but she’s so determinedly girlish that she may as well have her hair in pigtails.
Most egregious of all, however, was the pilot’s final scene: Kate, on her houseboat, pours two glasses of wine and talks to an unseen visitor. The camera eventually pans over to reveal… the urn of her dead father’s ashes, which Kate has stolen from her stepmother. As she babbles on, she adds her father’s glasses to the top of the urn. If the scene were scored with dissonant music instead of the typical melancholy smooth pop of the closing scene in bad TV shows, the scene would be straight out of a horror movie. Actually, that show, featuring a deranged mediator who talks to the dead, sounds like one worth watching. But Fairly Legal is fairly middling.
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