TV Review: USA’s “Fairly Legal” with Sarah Shahi (Season 2)

USA’s “Fairly Legal” returned to the television airwaves this past Friday.  Having just spent a whole week on My Cousin Vinny posts, we felt no constraints in returning to pop culture and offering you this review of the second season premiere.  Last  year, we interviewed the show’s creator and then-producer Michael Sardo, which you can peruse here.  Sardo was replaced this season by producer Peter Ocko. Although it’s been some time since we here at Abnormal Use watched the show, we figured now was as good a time as any to revisit it.

As you may recall, “Fairly Legal” centers around a young mediator and former attorney named Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) who works for a San Francisco law firm started by her late father.  As the series opened last year, Kate’s father had just died, leaving her and the firm to adjust to the loss.  To make things worse for Kate, the firm is now headed by her cold stepmother and new boss Lauren Reed (Virginia Williams).  Needless to say, the two of them,who are relatively close in age, by the way, don’t get along well.  As if this wasn’t enough, Kate is going through a divorce with her estranged husband Justin Patrick (Micheal Trucco), an assistant district attorney.

Directed by Anton Cropper, “Satisfaction,” the first episode of the new season, lacked a certain polish. Admirably, Ocko seems to be steering the show away from its mediation of the week formula in favor of a more detailed character study. However, much of  “Satisfaction” was still dominated by the central case of the week.  Kate attempts to mediate a chemical exposure case involving a plaintiff who wants not money but the truth. (We here at Abnormal Use are still waiting for a mediation like that).  Instead of impartially serving as a mediator, Kate scurries about the office doing her best Erin Brockovich impression.   Of course, as we noted in our review of the pilot, one of Kate’s flaws as a character is that she injects herself into the case when she is supposed to remain a neutral figure.  As we noted then:

Kate is an idealist. She shows up at one client’s house late one night and encourages him to “do the right thing” – something which is contrary to his own wishes and best interests. Her managing partner advises her that a non-client criminal defendant is not worth attention – and Kate responds sarcastically that she should “never let an innocent kid’s life stand in the way of our legal fees.” She lectures her district attorney ex-husband about justice and truth being higher than the laws that are held up as sacred and immutable. The difficulty she faces – and what is bound to become a central theme of the show – is her philosophy and its conflict with the daily back and forth of the legal profession (which she comes to understand are just as important, but not more, than her own idealism).

That said, if last season’s pilot was any indicator, there is an immense amount of confusion over the role of a mediator in the show.  Kate, at times, assists her firm’s clients, although in the pilot, she had gone so far as to resign from the bar, meaning she is no longer a lawyer.  As a mediator, she strays so far beyond the confines of that role that it is a wonder that she accomplished anything at all.  In fact, it is curious that after a year of such antics that she is continuing to receive mediation referrals in any way, shape, or form.

However, a bright spot in the episode was the addition of new character Ben Grogan (Ryan Johnson), an ambulance chaser type who strikes a deal to become a partner at the now struggling Reed & Reed (although we’re curious why this free wheeling and independent litigator would want to a join stuffy defense firm like Reed & Reed – or why a stuffy defense firm would find itself so troubled that it would join forces with a flamboyant Plaintiff’s attorney). Interesting story lines to come include the Reed & Reed firm facing financial distress and Justin’s confession of infidelity.  In the end, though, we suspect that if viewers possess any pre-existing knowledge of the inner workings of the legal system generally, or mediation specifically, this show, with its errors and misrepresentations, may offer only frustration.

If you’re still interested, the show airs Fridays at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central on the USA Network.  In case you missed this week’s episode (or any of last season), you can catch them all on Hulu.  They are on the books for 13 more episodes this season.