“Less lawyer. More appeal.”
Fairly Legal is the story of Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi, Life) who has left life as a lawyer to pursue another facet of the legal profession: mediation. I was drawn to the series because it dealt with an aspect of law I hadn’t seen, and its hook is one of the reasons I kept watching.
Kate’s father has passed on, leaving her struggling to balance all areas of her life. There’s the uphill battle with her stepmother and new boss, Lauren (Virginia Williams, How I Met Your Mother), and their scenes provide much of the tension. Another problem for her is the extremely confusing relationship with soon-to-be ex-husband Assistant District Attorney Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco, Castle). The only thing keeping Kate sane is her assistant Leonardo (Baron Vaughn, Law and Order), whose ability to multi-task and remain level-headed routinely saves her.
By having the show revolve around mediation, Fairly Legal manages to avoid most procedural pitfalls, enabling it to stray from the requisite topics of theft, rape, and murder. In fact, mediation can cover almost any conceivable aspect of human interaction, so the potential for cases is limitless; truly a writer’s dream. With such an abundance of material to choose from, I was initially a little disappointed with the character of Kate Reed. When did it become standard to feature a protagonist who believes their way is the only way to do things, and uses up all the goodwill they’ve managed to engender with the other characters in their world?
From Gregory House to Megan Hunt, it seems as though the landscape of television is now littered with flawed leads who spend their time taking advantage of all the characters they can, holding firm to the mantra that the ends justify the means. The problem with characters like these, and part of what keeps us watching, is our desire to see them fail. Regardless how worthy their cause, we cannot help but devote our attention to waiting for the sign their comeuppance is nigh.
Kate Reed spends ten episodes acting as though her time is more valuable than everyone else’s, as she struggles to help those involved in her mediations come out satisfied. Never mind the decisions she makes put her ex-husband in the hot seat, or could potentially cause her boss/stepmom to lose face and valuable clients. As long as Kate feels justice is being served, she’s a woman on a mission and will not be deterred.
The reason I kept watching and will continue to do so is Kate’s earnestness. She’s not a malevolent character, she merely forgets her actions have consequences. It’s easy to forgive Kate’s narrow-mindedness, when it clearly comes from an unselfish place. But none of that matters without the performances to back it up, and thankfully Fairly Legal‘s ensemble delivers. Shahi’s portrayal of Kate oozes sincerity and it’s easy to feel sympathetic watching her balancing too many obligations on too many fronts. Vaughn’s Leonardo is very good at keeping one foot in the land of the geeks and one in the land of the ultra-stylish, a composed and efficient assistant we would all benefit from. Williams is pitch-perfect as the stepmother who must maintain an icy façade in the face of those who would take her late husband’s company away. She may allow cracks to show but these fleeting glimpses keep her from becoming a truly despicable character. Trucco’s chemistry with Shahi is a near-tangible thing, and I only hope the writers have a plan for this confusing relationship. Since they’re technically still married, there’s no will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension, but it’s difficult to see what the future holds.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer has all the depth and clarity you would expect from a modern series, and it flatters the locations beautifully. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is overkill, but the mix was beautiful and I could’t detect the ADR often founds on these shows.
As far as bonus features go, we get a healthy mix of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and episode commentaries. An intriguing addition to Universal’s repertoire are scene comparisons. Creator/Executive Producer Michael Sardo and Executive Producer Steve Stark present two versions of a scene and detail why they chose to air one over the other. It’s a unique feature and one I wouldn’t mind seeing repeated on other releases.
Fairly Legal is a show with potential for growth, whose acting, editing, and writing already show promise. The characters are engaging, the material is fresh, and its fast-pace keeps the time flying. Highly recommended.