Sarah Shahi shines in Fairly Legal

Shows built around one main character can sometimes get old fast. A lot depends on the actor or actress. Hugh Laurie remains endlessly fascinating on House, but the premise of playing a modern day Sherlock Holmes allows him plenty to chew on. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s a terrific actor.)
I keep rooting for Carla Gugino to become a series lead, but she keeps getting set up to fail as a super agent or wonder woman, characters with not enough flaws to stay sympathetic and keep viewers keen. The right actor needs the right role, as Julianna Margulies found with The Good Wife. Just two years earlier, she was far less compelling as the too-perfect attorney on Canterbury’s Law.
A show that may have this figured out is Fairly Legal, a new U.S. cable drama premiering Wednesday in Canada on Showcase. The series, set in San Francisco but shot in Vancouver, stars Sarah Shahi (The L Word) as Kate Reed, an ex-lawyer who quit her late father’s high-powered law firm to become a mediator.
Reed is an independent kind of gal. For one thing, she lives on a houseboat out in the harbour. She has the occasional sleepover with her ex-hubby/lawyer Patrick (Michael Trucco from Battlestar Galactica) but she’s not looking to rekindle an old relationship.
“The only place these two can agree is underneath the sheets,” says Shahi. Her character may be a mediator, but don’t ask her to work out conflict in her personal life.
When I suggested to Shahi that her character seemed like some male TV writer’s idea of the ultimate woman–a babe who lives on  a houseboat, kicks ass at work and only wants sex from her man–she shot me down fast. Reed is crazy flawed, she says, and that’s why she took the part. The woman may look like she’s holding it together, but she’s dancing on a thin edge, and she’s headed for a fall.
Fairly Legal premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET in Canada on Showcase and airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network. For more on Shahi and the series, jump to this story I wrote last week for The Canadian Press here.

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