Set to join USA’s growing roster of quirky characters is Kate Reed, the fashionable, quick-witted mediator who’s front and center in USA’s new series Fairly Legal.

Played by Sarah Shahi (Life, The L Word), Fairly Legal follows Kate Reed, a litigator-turned-mediator who’s using her legal powers for good by helping opposing sides find common legal ground. We learn early on that Kate’s life is full of complications. She’s separated from her husband Justin (played by Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Trucco) but the break wasn’t exactly clean and the two continue to see each other for business and personal reasons. Her father, who ran the law firm where Kate used to practice, recently passed away, leaving Kate’s “wicked step-mother” Lauren (Virginia Williams) to try to keep the place afloat. Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait) plays her brother Spencer. And finally, there’s Kate’s trusted assistant Leo, played by Baron Vaughn. Leo’s a geek extraordinaire, who scores points with me for being a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.

We’re introduced to Kate in numerous ways throughout the pilot episode. Everywhere she goes, she’s looking for common ground. Whether it’s diffusing a random robbery at the place she gets coffee, helping her step-mother get two clients to agree on something, or appeasing a judge in court by convincing a neurotic groom-to-be that he doesn’t need to sue a bunch of people for messing up his marriage proposal, Kate is always busy. She’s part lawyer, part mediator and apparently, part private detective as she spends half the episode running around trying to uncover the truth behind one of the cases she’s working on. Her constant running gives us a chance to see Vancouver’s version of San Francisco, which actually works nicely. Then again, I’ve never actually been to San Francisco, so residents of the Bay City may disagree with me there. Either way, the setting is pretty.

My biggest (and really, only) criticism with the pilot episode is that I think it tries too hard to make us fall in love with Kate right off the bat and really, Shahi’s performance alone would be enough to do that over time. Kate is beautiful, fashionable and charismatic but I think the premiere episode overdoes it in its attempts to demonstrate all of this with cute moments and too many things introduced at once. Within the first few minutes of the episode, we find out that Kate lives on a boat, just lost her father, doesn’t like her step-mother, likes The Wizard of Oz, gets along with her brother, is still sort of seeing her ex and takes her coffee black.

If USA weren’t already a network fairly established in delivering quality original programming, I might understand the need to rush the story’s introduction and wave all of the characters and their charming quirks at us to be sure everyone stands out but that’s not the case. USA already has the audience for this, as I suspect fans of shows like Psych, White Collar and Covert Affairs will enjoy this new series. With that said, the series itself has a lot going for it, including a great cast, interesting characters, a fairly original angle on the legal system and plenty of opportunity for interesting story arcs as the show progresses. So, while I can’t rave about the first episode, I do think Fairly Legal has the potential to be another fun, clever, character driven series to join USA’s other great shows.

Fairly Legal premieres Thursay, January 20, 2011 at 10/9c on USA.

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