We begin with Sandra Bell – played by Britt Robertson, who was great in teen dramas The Secret Circle and Life Unexpected, and might just save this show from itself by sheer charm alone – turning up over an hour early to be sworn in as a new public defender at “the Mother Court” in New York. She’s keen, see! The other five newbies we’re supposed to follow turn up in dribs and drabs but, after a whole episode, I can only tell you the names of two more of them, so I don’t think the writers like the rest as much as they like Sandra Bell. (NB: She gets called “Sandra Bell” rather than “Sandra” an awful lot by folk who think they’re being cute, but might need to disabuse themselves of that notion.) Further evidence of this is that, as it happens, the other two whose names I know are Ally and Seth, aka Sandra Bell’s best friend/roommate and best friend/roommate’s boyfriend-but-spoiler-not-for-long, because Sandra Bell says both their names a lot.
Anyway, because this is a Shondaland show, “they’re young, they’re hungry, they’re smart” and they’re all beautifully dressed. They don’t speak in house-style monologue yet, for which I am profoundly grateful, but they’re very impassioned, which is fine for this type of glossy nonsense: it’s a network procedural, not an undercover investigation by channel 4 news. Under that same heading, see also the very simplistic, somewhat unfair attitude this first episode has to prosecutorial motives and ethics, and the fact that chief public defender Hope Davis likes to dish out life lessons – or maybe just to train Sandra Bell – by way of long, laboured baseball stories. I’ve had many bosses in my life, some good, some bad, but the day one of them starts trying to teach me the Tao of Charlie Nicholas is the day I will need to get a new job. Sandra Bell seems to like it though, so whatevs.
Something I can’t really handwave so easily, however, is that two of the new kids on the block – Sandra Bell, of course, and a really annoying dude who calls her “Sandra Bell” but also has definite signs of a Secret Pain so maybe he’s got potential – brassily volunteer themselves into dealing with the presumably high-profile and very important case of a young man essentially recruited by law enforcement to try to bomb the Statue of Liberty on their FIRST DAY. And then both of them are allowed to run the trial within what seems like their first week. With their bosses sitting right next to them. I mean, if their bosses have the time to sit there, why are they not actually running this incredibly high-stakes case themselves? Or at least handing it over to someone who hasn’t just walked in the door? Do they really….. You know what, never mind. It’s summer, nobody is pretending this show is anything more than shiny tat, and nobody needs me to fret about its verisimilitude. It might as well be set in space, it doesn’t matter.
Onto the things that maybe do. For the People has a reasonably diverse cast, the acting is all perfectly fine in that swishy, splashy network procedural way, and the Statue case is actually reasonably under-played – its message is clear and worthwhile, even if Hope’s character doesn’t trust us to get it ourselves, and succumbs to the temptation to spell it out all for us at the very end. In Robertson’s hands, Sandra Bell seems quite nice when she could very easily have been infuriating, and if I watch it again, she’ll probably be the reason – nobody else made enough of an impression for me to care about them either way, but in fairness it’s only the first episode. Maybe Annoying Ambitious Guy or Buttoned-up Prosecutor Girl in Boring Suits will come into their own in the second. Ending this one with the lyric “This is what legends are made of!” seems wildly over-optimistic, though. If you want to talk “legends”, For the People shows no immediate signs of getting close to any of them: it’s not as earnest or compelling as Law and Order, it’s not as quirky or charming as LA Law, and it’s not anywhere near as clever or funny as The Good Wife or The Good Fight. But it is watchable and mildly entertaining: I wouldn’t give it any awards, but I probably would give it another episode. I didn’t hate it.