You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Fairly Legal

"Fairly Legal" is about as middling as dramedy gets.

Kate Reed - Sarah Shahi
Lauren Reed - Virginia Williams
Justin Patrick - Michael Trucco
Leonardo - Baron Vaughn

Given all the success USA has enjoyed with alliterative female stars — Mary McCormack, Piper Perabo, now Sarah Shahi — one hesitates to summarily dismiss “Fairly Legal.” Conceptually, though, it’s about as middling as dramedy gets, featuring Shahi as a mediator — a job that’s part attorney, part psychologist. It’s also a prescription for small-ball cases, the legal equivalent of the minor medical maladies on “Royal Pains.” That program, too, found its niche, but if USA’s latest proves equally popular, it’s further evidence that TV (and indeed, the world) has a frightening surplus of lawyers.

As if cognizant of its premise’s modest nature, series creator and sitcom veteran Michael Sardo loads up “Legal’s” periphery with eccentric supporting characters and family drama. Shahi’s Kate Reed works as a mediator for a larger San Francisco law firm, one now presided over by her icy stepmother Lauren (Virginia Williams), who assumed control following the death of Kate’s father. (Kate identifies callers on her cell with “The Wizard of Oz” characters, with Lauren naturally represented by the Wicked Witch.)

Kate also has an unorthodox relationship with her soon-to-be-ex-husband (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Michael Trucco), who we meet in the opener after their latest booty call. By day, he’s a prosecutor, opening the door to his own adventures in the realm of at-work politics.

Racing around the Bay Area (actually, Vancouver) in stiletto heels, Kate handles all kinds of cases, big and (mostly) small. They range from a would-be groom suing the hired help that messed up his elaborate proposal, to a grandmother and stepfather fighting over an orphaned kid — or, in the premiere, a haughty businessman (guest Ken Howard) feuding with his son over closing a major deal. There’s also a cranky judge (Gerald McRaney) with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Kate.

Nothing here really pops, though, other than the world-class beauty of Shahi, who has yet to find a regular vehicle to capitalize on it. (She had little to do as the sidekick in NBC’s “Life,” her last series, which was preceded by “The L Word.”)

Even Kate’s mediation skills — meant to nudge people to see disputes from someone else’s perspective — aren’t executed wittily enough to rival a middling USA property like “Psych.”

All told, “Fairly Legal” feels as if the network — despite riding a nifty string of successes by placing a light spin on familiar genres — has dipped into this particular shallow pool once too often.

Granted, there’s probably an audience that will be moved by Kate’s mixed emotions about her ex, or those heart-to-heart chats with her dead father’s ashes — and maybe the show deserves a critic more apt to be moved by such sentimentality.

Then again, as Kate might grudgingly concede, who says life’s always fair?

Fairly Legal

USA, Thurs. Jan. 20, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Universal Cable Prods. Executive producers, Michael Sardo, Steve Stark; co-executive producer, Russ Buchholz; co-producer, Drew Matich; director, Bronwen Hughes; writer, Sardo.

Crew: Camera, Damian Acevedo; production designer, Ricardo Spinace; editor, Robert Ivison; music, Mateo Messina; casting, Zane/Pillsbury. 60 MIN.

Cast: Kate Reed - Sarah Shahi
Lauren Reed - Virginia Williams
Justin Patrick - Michael Trucco
Leonardo - Baron VaughnWith: Ethan Embry, Ken Howard, Gerald McRaney.

More TV

  • Rakuten TV Preps New AVOD Channels

    Rakuten TV Preps New AVOD Channels and Originals for 2020 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rakuten TV has garnered 10 million views on its free on-demand service since its launch in October. The streamer’s CEO, Jacinto Roca, told Variety that, buoyed by the early AVOD success, it will launch a suite of new channels and original shows on the ad-supported service in 2020. He added that he hopes the free [...]

  • disney-logo

    K Madhavan Becomes India Manager at Disney

    K Madhavan has been promoted to country manager of all of Disney’s conventional TV businesses in the key Indian market. Madhavan was previously head of Disney’s regional language TV businesses in South India since 2016. Madhavan’s promotion was announced internally within Disney in India on Friday. He takes over from Sanjay Gupta, who has resigned [...]

  • _DSF7736.RAF

    How 'The Expanse' 'Died and Went to Heaven' at Amazon

    In the content space race currently being fought out in the entertainment industry, shows getting picked up by one platform after being dumped by another is becoming a more frequent phenomenon. Some moves feel more like a marriage of convenience, while others feel like a more obvious fit. Take “The Expanse” moving to Amazon Prime [...]

  • Lulu Wang Nicole Kidman

    Lulu Wang Boards Nicole Kidman Amazon Series 'The Expatriates'

    “The Farewell” writer and director Lulu Wang is teaming up with Nicole Kidman for the drama series “The Expatriates” at Amazon. The show had received a straight-to-series order at the streamer back in July. Wang is joining the series as a writer and executive producer and will also direct multiple episodes. Wang and Kidman had [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Former 'Letterman' Head Writer Merrill Markoe to Receive Writers Guild Honor

    Merrill Markoe, longtime head writer at “Late Night With David Letterman,” will receive the Writers Guild of America West’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement. She will be honored at the Writers Guild Awards on Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “Merrill Markoe’s pioneering work created what was then a new language [...]

  • TV News Roundup: Natalie Martinez Joins

    TV News Roundup: Natalie Martinez Joins CBS All Access' 'The Stand' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Natalie Martinez will guest star in CBS All Access’ “The Stand,” and USA announces the third season premiere date of “The Sinner.”  CASTING Natalie Martinez (“The I-Land”) will guest star in CBS All Access‘ adaptation of “The Stand,“ based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Variety has exclusively learned. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content