If you merged the young, green professionals of Grey’s Anatomy with the aspirant lawyers of How to Get Away with Murder you might end up with something like For the People, the latest legal drama from Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland.
Based around a New York District Federal Court, the principal characters of this series are necessarily educated, affluent and mostly sexy. They wear nice suits and have a fire in their belly for the next case they are assigned. That means new moral dilemmas and guest actors each week, perfectly fitting their desire to play hero.
Yet while some are assigned as defence cases, others will assist the prosecution, meaning these colleagues may be pitted against one another. And not everybody is going to win.
Amongst this busy cast is Sandra (Britt Robertson) who has all the temerity and likability of Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey. Her first case, defending a young man accused of trying to blow up the Statue of Liberty, will see her go up against handsome, aggressive Leonard (Regé-Jean Page) for the Prosecution.
“I’m the guy you don’t want to go up against,” he reveals.
Sandra will defy Jill (Hope Davis) who wants her to agree to a plea deal.
“Pick your battles… know your enemy,” Jill warns in a speech that ticks the cliche checkboxes.
Meanwhile Seth (Ben Rappaport) is defence for one case pitted against girlfriend Allison (Jasmin Savoy Brown). I wasn’t especially convinced there was genuine chemistry as a couple, but perhaps it is a plot set-up. Jay (Wesam Keesh) is out of his depth defending a small business swindler against hard-nosed prosecutor Kate (Susannah Flood). I presume in weeks to come, all will switch roles as to whether they are for or against assigned cases.
Elsewhere the series also features State Prosecutor Roger (Ben Shenkman) and Nurse Jackie’s Anna Deavere Smith as a court administrator Tina.
The ensemble is a lot to take in for a first episode but there are moments and characters that cut through writer Paul William Davies’ functional script. It’s hard to overlook that much of the legal argument comes down to points of strategy (or even theatrics) and not points of law.
Amongst the lessons imparted to these young legal eagles, “The government almost always wins because they have all the power… you don’t need to win, you need A win” / “You don’t need to respond, you need to make it irrelevant” / “Carry a lot of paper then they worry you have something they don’t know about.”
Universal is thin with first rate premium titles. For the People may not herald its next wave, but Shondaland -who brings her trademark diversity to the cast- does make it broadly accessible.
For the People premieres 8:30pm Thursday May 3 on Universal.