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First Watch: USA Network’s Fairly Legal “Pilot”

Photo Credit: USA Network

So y’all already know, if it’s shot in Vancouver, I’m going to watch it, at least once. Fairly Legal (formerly Facing Kate) had that going for it right out of the gate when it was announced last summer. The fact that it’s a funny, sweet, little-bit-goofy show is a lovely bonus. I’m a longtime Michael Trucco fan, pre-BSG, for Perfect Romance, a gem of a Lifetime flick he did about seven years ago, and Sarah Shahi did very good work on The L Word before she landed on Life (and IRL, she’s married to the very funny Steve Howey from Reba and is a Texas native!) so she had my vote, as well.

The gist of the show is that Kate is a former lawyer turned mediator who just lost her dad, and she’s grappling with that grief, the dominance of her stepmother, Lauren, as the grieving widow and surviving partner in their namesake firm, and the complicated not-quite-over relationship with her ex-husband, Justin, who’s also an ADA. Her brother, Spencer (Ethan Embry), took himself off the attorney fast track only to find himself a stay-at-home dad with a wife who decided to ascend her own.

The pilot throws Kate’s talent at us from the jump when she defuses a hold up on her morning coffee run by talking a guy with a gun down from a full-on robbery in exchange for a case each of beer and jerky. She heads to work and dives in to mediate a contract issue with a father and son textiles team. Seems the son had a fender bender while drunk and the kids in the other car have been arrested because the passenger waved a gun at him. Kate investigates the boys and learns the driver was wrong place, wrong time but otherwise promising. She delves further into it and handily gets the charges dropped and the boy freed to pursue his Yale career while helping the father and son sort out a new contract – by working her assistant Leo’s D&D contact (Ty Olsson!) in the police department to gather traffic camera evidence that indicates the son prefers the ladies side of the clothing business, and getting Justin to delay a plea bargain hearing. She very sweetly goes down to the jail that evening to watch from a distance as the kid walks out and into the arms of his mom and sisters.

Separately, a grouchy judge (Gerald McRaney) assigns Kate to mediate a wedding proposal misfire that had the girl saying yes but losing the heirloom ring. Wise words from Leo lead her to threaten the suing husband-to-be with the loss of an equally valuable heirloom watch from his bride-to-be so that the couple realizes the thing that matters is the love, not the swag. The downside is that she faked them out with a fairly priceless BTVS 100th episode commemorative watch that belonged to Leo, which she now has to replace.

The quirky touches include Kate assigning Wizard of the Oz characters to her extended family’s ring tones — Leo is the Lion, Justin is the Tin Man, Spencer is the Scarecrow, Lauren is the Wicked Witch, and her dad was the Wizard. At one point, his number pops up as an incoming caller and she’s so startled she doesn’t answer it, so I don’t know if that’ll be a theme. So far we don’t have a Glenda or Toto.

Kate also lives on her dad’s boat, “Welcome a Broad,”  in the marina and an older couple immediately suggests the name is inappropriate and she begs off that argument. There’s a newbie Aussie on the docks, too, and I’m guessing he’ll be a love interest for her. The episode closes with Justin coming to see her and conceding that she took a crap settlement in their divorce and doesn’t have to live on the boat — that he could make it right with a year’s rent to put her back on land and in the neighborhood near him. She declines and tells him she likes the boat and then sends him away under the guise that she already has company. When she goes back down below deck, she’s working through a bottle of wine and talking to her father’s urn, which she swiped from Lauren’s desk.

The show as a whole fits the new USA mold and is a tonal companion to Covert Affairs — not too serious, not too funny, but with a mix of both that keeps you slightly on guard about how things will shake out. The pilot was 90 minutes long and I didn’t really think it had to be — we had a little more lingering in some of the contemplative scenes than I thought was necessary. The cast meshes nicely, though. There was a very good scene between Lauren and Kate where they put it on the table that yes, Kate hates Lauren, because it’s simpler to hate her than to process that Lauren made her father happy when her mother couldn’t. They can’t be friends, they can’t be family, but they can be this.

I loved the use of some of the municipal buildings that haven’t been overfilmed in Vancouver-based shows but I have to call bullshit that Kate ran all over town in high heels trying to flag cable cars and cabs — I hope they put her in a car at some point. One interesting staging device was the use of conversations over tiered stairwells, with Kate usually a floor or two below whomever was speaking to her — not sure that was intentional, just something I noticed. I’m glad this show is finally here. I’m looking forward to it.

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