Review for ABC’s For the People

This new legal procedural show is basically How to Get Away with Murder without Viola Davis, and is exactly as disappointing as it sounds!

For the People is so excruciatingly self-conscious that, at times, especially during the pilot, it seems as if every actor is frantically waving their hands about and shouting for you to notice that they are in a TV show, finally!
Transparent Emotional Manoeuvring

When friends and roommates Sandra, played by Britt Robertson, and Ali, undertaken by Jasmin Savoy Brown, interact with one another in the stilted first episode. The subtext is very obviously that the best-friend-dynamic needs to be established as quickly as is possible. With the kind of emotional manipulation that it so obvious it is almost cynical, For the People tries to present the Shondaland ideal standard of six-odd youthful overachievers who all talk too fast and are simply smouldering with unresolved sexual tension, but falls very short.

Yawn. Personally, I would rather be spending some time at the kind of online casino New Zealand has to offer!
Subtle as a Battleship

Right from the first frame of For the People, the characters are scrambled up together in a variety of heterosexual romantic pairings, like they’ve been shaken up like dice in a cup and thrown down to see what will happen next.

But, unlike Rhimes’ greatest shows, For the People lacks even the pretence of subtlety, which is very often provided by the lead actor, a Kerry Washington, a Viola Davis, or an Ellen Pompeo. It’s spirited, and follows all the correct patterns, but I found For the People very difficult to invest in.
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Everyone is Trying Very Hard

In the show’s defence, everyone seems to be trying their best. But this strain is obvious to the viewer, so much so that it actually distracts from any attempt to be absorbed by what’s happening. Paul William Davies, the showrunner and creator for the show, has copied the most obvious elements from the trademark world-building that Rhimes is so famous for, and this means ridiculously high stakes are infused in every case, and the criminal and non-criminal closing arguments are impassioned cries for justice. But there is almost no reason to invest in any of the lead characters, all of whom present naive approaches to the courtroom, and rather absurd qualifications to prove it.
Name-Dropping is Never a Good Idea

Instead of characterisation, For the People name-drops: a degree or two from Yale Law, clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, putting time in at the American Civil Liberties Union. This isn’t characterisation by any stretch of the imagination – it is the lazy semblance of it, and I, for one, was not fooled.
Short on Recognisable People

For the People has no recognisable people in it. Hope Davis, to her eternal credit, performs the Reasonable Adult role. Anna Deavere Smith, although hopelessly miscast, is fun to watch on screen, but her performance feels a bit like playing an old game and enjoying it because it is familiar. The relative talents of the cast, however, are wasted in a sequence of melodramatic legal deadlocks, and the show simply seems to be lacking soul.

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