REASON TO WATCH: Sassy star (Sarah Shahi), scenic setting (San Francisco), fresh angle on a tired franchise (not a lawyer but a mediator), all delivered with USA's trademark zest.
WHEN/WHERE: Premieres tonight 10-11:15 on USA Network
By the time this show is four minutes in, everything is clear. Kate Reed (Shahi, from NBC's "Life") lives on a boat left by her dead dad, whose law firm is now led by his "wicked witch" widow (slightly older and blonder babe Virginia Williams). Kate quit lawyering to do "alternative dispute resolution" because she couldn't stand that winner-loser thing. She's into win-win.
And, this being a USA show, looking fabulous doing it. Nobody looks unkempt on a USA show. Kate races around San Fran in tight skirts and 5-inch heels, snacking on the street with her also-fabulous-looking soon-to-be-ex-husband/prosecutor connection (Michael Trucco, "Castle"/ "Battlestar Galactica"), when she isn't having meet-cutes with other hot guys at the marina.
MY SAY As the broadcast networks flounder, trying to remember how to make TV shows, it's nice to see USA nail it pretty much every time. Tonight's extended-length pilot is a dazzler - snappy pace, majestic sets, shrewd plotting and a heroine on the side of the angels. She wants justice!
USA originals are never great - even our beloved "Monk" suffered from "mysteries" that weren't - but they're always really good: smartly cast, slickly set-up, briskly turned over, with idiosyncrasies to add pizzazz. (Love Kate's personalized "Wizard of Oz" ringtones.) Eschewing the standard TV ensemble, USA favors a sparkling lead, surrounded by lots of feisty character parts.
If this all sounds like the 1930s Hollywood studio system, churning out sharp star vehicles that were reliably entertaining if rarely profound or stupendous - bingo.
BOTTOM LINE Future episodes aren't as snappy or scenic. But Shahi & Show deliver win-win, anyway.