As the CW continues its habit of bringing in international imports, we’re noticing that the quality of these imports is improving. Case in point: Family Law, a Canadian series that recently was renewed for a third ten-episode season. It has recognizable TV stars (Victor Garber, Lauren Holly) plus an ensemble that’s adept at both drama and comedy. And, it doesn’t try to pretend that it takes place anywhere but in Vancouver, where it’s shot. Read on for more.
FAMILY LAW: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes of Vancouver. A woman who is obviously hungover is sleeping in her car.
The Gist: Abigail Bianchi (Jewel Saite) is sleeping one off outside a bar when she gets a call from a client. She’s due in court to represent him and she’s running way late. She gets there right before the judge dismisses his case, stumbles in, and throws up right in her client’s lap, students filming with their phones the whole time.
Three months later, after going through rehab and the bar reviewing her case, she is back at work at the only firm that will take her: A top family law firm run by her father, Harry Svensson (Victor Garber). She’s there on a probationary basis; don’t make waves, don’t litigate cases. The two of them have never had the best relationship, as he left her mom, Joanne Kowalski (Lauren Holly), when she was a kid, and then went on to have kids with two other women. In fact, his other two kids, Daniel (Zach Smadu) and Lucy (Genelle Williams) work for the firm; she didn’t even know she had half-siblings until he introduces them on her first day.
Despite Harry’s warnings, Abby dives right in on a case where a teenager wants to find out who her biological father is; her mother found a sperm donor via a Craigslist ad, but the girl was a product of a one-night stand. Lucy, the firm’s psychologist, chafes at Abby’s aggressive methods of confronting the biological father, a real estate developer, and then Abby proposes suing him for 13 years of child support when the girl starts to spend more time with him than her mother. Meanwhile, Daniel is busy taking care of a pampered dog who is in the middle of a custody battle.
Abby has other things to deal with, namely a separation from her husband Frank (Luke Camilleri) borne out of her drinking and his cheating, and how it affects her teenage daughter Sofia (Eden Summer Gilmore) and younger son Nico (Brenden Sunderland). It doesn’t help when the developer hires Frank to oppose Abby and Harry in the child support case.
Photo: Darko Sikman/eOne
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Family Law creator Susin Nielsen definitely took a page from the David E. Kelley school of law shows, combining outlandish cases of the week with characters interacting with each other in both funny and serious scenes. Out of Kelley’s law shows, Family Law reminds us the most of Boston Legal.
Our take: One of the big problems we have with Family Law is the main character, Abby Bianchi. Our issue isn’t with Saite’s performance, which balances the comedic and dramatic aspects of the series well. In fact, her performance elevates Abby into a compelling character. But what we’re not sure about is whether Abby is a jerk or not.
At first, she’s made out to be jerk at first, even after she goes through rehab. She more or less despises Harry for leaving her and Joanne all those years ago, resents Daniel and Lucy for having better relationships with her philandering father than she had, and flouts conventions and rules at every turn. She doesn’t want to share at AA and calls herself a “Schmalcoholic”. And it seems that she doesn’t acknowledge the role her drinking played in her separation from her husband.
These are the kind of jerky in-recovery characters we’ve seen in shows like Single Drunk Female, who seem to be getting sober under duress. Is that what Abby is supposed to be? Or is she a caring mom who wants her family to be back together? Sure, we know humans contain multitudes, but the way Abby is written in the early going puts those multitudes in conflict with each other, and it makes her feel like two different characters at times.
Otherwise, the show is perfectly fine. Garber and Holly are there to bring their extensive TV experience, and they certainly do a lot with the few scenes they are in; it’ll be fun to see them interact with each other as embittered exes. Smadu and Williams are fine in their roles as Daniel and Lucy, and the potential is there for their relationship with Abby to develop over the season. Right now, they’re pretty unhappy she’s around, and Abby is aware of it. But this is the kind of show where the “family” aspect of the show will definitely be the most developed aspect, and we expect all the complicated feelings they have for each other and Harry to change over time.
sex and skin None. The show is Canadian broadcast network-friendly, which means there’s more swearing than an American network show but just as little nudity and sex.
Parting Shot: Abby has sushi with her mother and her kids, including the reluctant Sofia. Joanna asks her granddaughter if there was one kid in her class she could kill, who would it be.
Sleeper Star: Lauren Holly brings a sauciness to Joanna that only a 30-year TV and film veteran can bring. Joanna seems to be successful, given her beautiful lakefront home, and it’ll be interesting to discover how she and Abby managed to thrive after Harry left them.
Most Pilot-y Line: Abby brings her personal feelings about Harry into the child support case. “He’s a lousy parent; an emotionally stunted and unavailable human being.” At that moment, both Frank, the opposing counsel and Harry stand up and object. It’s a cheap gag that isn’t all that funny.
Our call: STREAM IT. The ensemble on Family Law is appealing enough that we get the feeling that, once Nielsen and her writers tweak Saite’s character a bit, the show will be a funny, light law drama that’s entertainingly quirky.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.