Fairly Legal starts this week in a fun place. Justin is in a chippy mood, because he's in Kate's office with a boatload of other ADA's and she's not. (Does this woman ever get anywhere on time?) She's meeting with a top-flight exec named John Marsden (Currie Graham of House, 24 and Desperate Housewives fame) who wants her to mediate the termination of a genius employee (Devon Gummersall, who looks a lot like a younger D.B. Sweeney). Marcus would rather throw the company's expensive prototype - or himself - off the roof. It's certainly not a slow opening for a series that sometimes struggles to find its pace. Unfortunately, it ends up sagging in the middle for another so-so episode.

By the end of the first act, we know that Marcus has actually hidden the prototype. As he's being carted off for a psych evaluation by the cops, Kate is left to figure out where the prototype is and save her mediation. In what is becoming common for this show, this requires doing things that annoy Justin and several other people along the way - and of course, they can never be seriously upset with her because she's perky and well-meaning. I have to agree with Justin's belief that she should switch to decaf; she seems particularly hyper in this episode, and it's a little grating.

Her case this week doesn't move me one way or another; we've seen the story of the employee squeezed by the employer a lot of times before, and her methods to settle the score come off as more cute than anything else. Having Leo repeatedly prank call Marsden's assistant to keep her busy? Despite his various fake voices, his using the same shtick each time makes it pretty obvious that it's one person. Giving Marsden pieces of his own prototype to force him to negotiate? I know that Kate's gimmick is that she thinks outside the box, but it also comes off as if she's trying to play games.

The momentum doesn't come back until the final act, when she finds out that she's been played all along and makes the best of it. I have to say that turning that curveball into a convincing argument is Kate's best move of the episode; she could go into a panic, but she sees it for what it means and delivers an impassioned speech about people's dreams. That's a great way to look at it, and for those few moments, the theatrics were stripped away and it was about heart. She also has a great scene with Justin at episode's end, which is funny without being too cute about their affection for one another. When Kate's not running around, or trying to get away with something, and I see her just relating person to person, I really like her. All the wisecracks and neurotic moments just muddle that for me.

In the subplot, Virginia is meeting a friend, Valerie Donovan (that's Stargate's Teryl Rothery, the week after her old costar Richard Dean Anderson was in the house), who needs help dissolving her first marriage since her ex-husband never held up his end of the paperwork. Very Sweet Home Alabama, in a sense. Not unlike that movie, said ex is out in the country, and he's reticent to be of any help whatsoever. That's where the similarities stop, though; unlike that script, there's no good-natured humor, no charm, nothing that makes it worth watching. Aside from saying, "Oh, cool, it's Teryl Rothery from Stargate!" I don't feel as if anything was added by its inclusion.

Leo also seems to be forming a bond with a potential girlfriend who shares his love of comic books. The guy certainly deserves a life outside of trying to keep Kate's world from falling down around here.

"Believers" starts strong, and it ends well. The first and last acts have some really interesting material in them. I just wish that the show could sustain those elements over an entire hour. I've made the Ally McBeal comparison before, and I think that's where my issue with this show lies. It can be a good series, when it focuses on its characters and on telling a good story. Yet it seems all too often that cute exchanges, reminders of people's messed-up personal lives, or other gimmicks become the focus, or at least a distraction. If I see a dancing baby, I'm out of here.

For more on Fairly Legal, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.