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‘For the People’ review: ABC’s wordy but winning legal drama

"For the People" stars Susannah Flood, Ben Rappaport, Regé-Jean Page and Vondie Curtis-Hall. Photo Credit: ABC / Nicole Wilder

THE SERIES “For the People”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday on ABC/7

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Six young, ambitious lawyers join the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan as public defenders and prosecutors. They are about to be tested as never before, or, as Judge Nicholas Byrne (Vondie Curtis-Hall) tells them, some will succeed, some will fail. Who? That’s for them to find out. They are Sandra Bell (Britt Robertson), close friends with Allison Adams (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who’s dating Seth Oliver (Ben Rappaport). The others are no-nonsense Kate Littlejohn (Susannah Flood), good-hearted Jay Simmons (Wesam Keesh) and ruthless Leonard Knox (Regé-Jean Page).

These newbies do have mentors, by the way — chief of the criminal division Roger Gunn (Ben Shenkman), federal public defender Jill Carlan (Hope Davis) and clerk of the court Tina Krissman (Anna Deavere Smith). “For the People” is the latest from Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland.

MY SAY “For the People” comes at viewers in a hailstorm of words, and the storm never lets up. There are possibly more words per square inch in this series than any in Shondaland history. There are piles and piles of words — pretty words, forbidding words, scary words. If casts were paid by the word, this crew would be millionaires, or on their way to becoming them. Many of the words are strung together quite well. A few of those strings are dripping with honey. A few have pathos, others bathos. But a handful are flat-out terrific like, “You won a trial because you had a trial” or, “Injustice isn’t only felt by the loudest person complaining about it.” Both derive their power from the context in which they were said, but they instantly and emphatically put a full-stop period on what this show apparently is: A thoughtful, intelligent and, on occasion, passionately felt newcomer.

But “For the People” can at times be preachy. It’s as if Aaron Sorkin sneaked into the writers’ room when in fact this room is run by someone named Paul William Davies. He entered Shondaland’s powerful orbit during “Scandal,” following a career as litigator at the exalted white-shoe law firm of O’Melveny & Myers.

Davies clearly knows his business, and it shows in those words. But there is virtue in silence, or the occasional wide-open space that allows viewers to process what they’ve heard, which then helps them feel their way into a story. Silence is an alien impulse, however, with “For the People,” which is lawyerly — and chatty — right down to its wingtips.

Is this a problem? Not always, because that overburdened cast handles — or is the word shovels? — this verbiage with such dexterity that you soon admire that feat as much as the language.

Another surprise with “For the People” is that there’s no sex, or virtually none in the early episodes. That’s almost unheard of for a Shondaland show or for so many other prime-time shows that tend to treat their protagonists — male or female — as sex-crazed hard bods who must fall into each other’s arms after a hard day’s work. But not here. These are professionals whose jobs come first, second and third. There’s no time for monkey business.

There’s something almost quaint about this and definitely something refreshing about it, too. The women characters of “For the People” are treated with respect and dignity. It’s Time’s Up applied to prime-time entertainment — and it’s about time.

BOTTOM LINE Intelligent, sharply produced and respectful of its female characters, “For the People” looks like a winner.


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