For the People
Thursday, Universal, 8.30pm
It's almost Law & Order Junior as this agreeable but lightweight legal drama adds to the sprawl of Shonda Rhimes' so-called Shondaland across the television landscape. Six thrusting young federal prosecutors and defence lawyers strap on their training wheels and go head to head inside the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Which ain't just any old court. As one of tonight's helpful little info dumps explains, it's the highest-profile trial court in the US, one that heard claims over the sinking of the Titanic, and in which the future US president Aaron Burr practised law way back in the 18th century. Our first sight of the court's imposing Corinthian columns, however, is matched with a hip-hop soundtrack, just to make clear that there's a new crew in the old 'hood. Said crew comprises three prosecutors and three defenders, several of whom already know each other, and two of whom are sleeping together. The most immediately interesting is no-nonsense prosecutor Kate (Susannah Flood), who sets down her ground rules with the night's big applause line: "I don't want to be the help desk for every man in the office too lazy to look anything up for himself." In a slightly startling development, her fellow rookie Leonard (Rege-Jean Page) is given a huge terrorism case to try while idealistic rookie defender Sandra (Britt Robertson) defends the defendant. In the meantime, lovers Allison and Seth (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Ben Rappaport) end up on opposite sides of a small but bitter fraud case. The prosecutors get a slick but not overly villainous boss (Ben Shenkman), the defenders get a stern but nurturing one (Hope Davis), and everyone gets a stern but indulgent judge and clerk of courts (Vondie Curtis-Hall and Anna Deavere Smith). Though executive-produced by Rhimes, the show was created by Paul William Davies, formerly a writer and story editor on Rhimes's Scandal. This first episode has a professional sleekness, but its examination of the legal and ethical issues raised by the cases is perfunctory to say the least, three trials being at least two too many to cover in 40 minutes while simultaneously establishing no fewer than eight main characters. If it manages to find a more suitable caseload it might make a tolerable diversion for Law & Order tragics who have run out of fresh repeats.