I had high hopes for the second episode of Fairly Legal based on the guest cast alone. "Priceless" features Paul Schulze as a man who wrongfully spent more than two decades in prison. Anyone who saw Schulze's run as Ryan Chappelle on 24, or even his guest appearances on shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or Standoff, to name two of my favorites, knows that he's turned in some great performances.
Justin personally hands Kate her next case: Steve (Schulze) has spent twenty-two years behind bars only to be found innocent, and now she has to mediate a settlement between him and the city of San Francisco. The question is if a monetary value can be placed on more than half of someone's life - to the lawyers, anyway, as Steve is more concerned with getting his life back. Kate quickly turns her attention from settling the case to helping Steve find himself again. Schulze is once again fantastic, conflicted and at times almost childlike as Steve's confronted with a vastly different world than the one he left. "I don't know what I want, because everything I want is in the past, and the past is dead," he says, and we can't help but feel for him. Maybe it's because she's got a reliable guest star to play off of, but Sarah Shahi is able to give a much more complex performance than she did in the pilot; there's a fantastic scene where she and Steve demolish the supermarket in which he was arrested, and it shows us a serious, darker side of Kate that steers her away from the flighty Ally McBeal stereotype.
On the front of her still-chaotic personal life, Kate has to face the reading of her late father's will. When Spencer calls her out for avoiding it, I can't say that I blame him, or even her. It's a complicated issue, and one that thankfully isn't played for too much humor given that we're talking about someone's death. The relationship between the Reed siblings has the potential to blossom into something akin to the Westen siblings on Burn Notice, and I hope that the writers continue to make good use of the character of Spencer. Unfortunately, the episode introduces someone named "David Smith" as a fourth beneficiary, making me cringe at the fact that there will be a mythology shoehorned into a perfectly good series.
Meanwhile, Justin is on edge because for all the honestly guilty people he puts away, it's only the mistakes that anyone ever hears about, and Lauren has to deal with the long professional shadow of her late husband. I actually found their parts of this episode to be the most interesting, because they explore two issues that I know from experience to be real and quite painful. Michael Trucco and Virginia Williams give a pair of great performances with the material, getting us to feel what their characters are going through. They show us that their characters will definitely be much more than caricatures. Trucco, in particular, continues the scene-stealing scenery chewing that's made him the most interesting actor to watch in my eyes. With his performances, I can get into Justin's head and see what makes him tick, and he makes me want to find out.
"Priceless" is a major step up from the Fairly Legal pilot, with much stronger acting and some compelling, thought-provoking writing. This is the series I wanted to see last week. It will take a few more episodes of this caliber before I'm entirely convinced, but if the show can keep this course and stay away from the pitfalls exposed in the premiere, it could mature into another success for USA.
For more Fairly Legal, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.