Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shahi appeals on "Legal," but can't resolve show's problems

The actress Sarah Shahi is, as evidenced by the photo above, a beautiful woman. You might have noticed her before, as the female lead on NBC's short-lived series "Life," or on Showtime's "The L Word," or maybe as the young woman with whom Tony engages in a Las Vegas adventure in a final season episode of "The Sopranos."
She's also a fine actress with a lot of charm, which is amply displayed on her new USA series "Fairly Legal," which debuts tonight at 10.

On the show, Shahi plays Kate Reed, a former lawyer who is now a mediator in her late father's law firm. She works for her icy stepmom (Virginia Williams), and has a loyal, if geeky, assistant (Baron Vaughn). As most leading ladies in television dramedies do, Kate leads a life full of complications. She's still grieving the loss of her dad, whom she adored, but whom seemed to vaguely disapprove of her. She's still sleeping with her estranged husband Justin (Michael Trucco), an attorney whom she occasionally hits up for favors. Of course, like all other characters on USA dramas, Kate doesn't play by the rules, which means she's regarded as a brilliant maverick by all around her.
Shahi, to her credit, gives the character lots of sparkle. She smiles. She bats her eyes. She exhibits fine comic timing. She even gets a laugh out of a clumsy early scene in which Kate uses her mediation gifts to diffuse a convenience store robbery.
Alas, I doubt that any actress -- no matter how lovely or charming -- could raise "Fairly Legal" beyond the level of a mildly pleasant amusement. It's not that it's bad. It's just unnecessary. In the pilot, we have little investment in any of Kate's cases. Her clients seem wooden and interchangeable. Even Kate seems vaguely bored by them. I also didn't care much about Kate's relationship with her ex or her stepmom. I sort of liked the relationship with her assistant but was actually most interested in her contentious relationship with a cranky judge, played by Gerald McRaney. Sadly, we see little of that. In fact, there's little in the pilot that would lead me to come back for another episode. That's too bad, because Shahi is legitimately talented and likable. But even her appeal can't make "Legal" a must see.

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