April 9, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Rebel”


REBEL:  Thursday 10PM on ABC

Krista Vernoff is one of network TV’s most prized showrunners.  She’s successfully guided Shonda Rhimes’s Grey’s Anatomy into a remarkable 17th season of success (which will be extended further if the necessary deals are made), and when she took over Station 19, that show became an effective one-two punch with Grey’s.  ABC’s in-house studio recently rewarded her for her skills with a big-money contract extension.  But as crucial as showrunning is to the TV ecosystem, it doesn’t have quite the gleam of original series creation, and until now, none of the pilots Vernoff wrote over the years had been ordered to series. That has changed with the arrival of Vernoff’s REBEL.

Which isn’t to say that Rebel is purely a work of Vernoff’s imagination.  In language that was no doubt carefully negotiated, it’s “inspired by the life of Erin Brockovich today,” words that are meant to distinguish it from Stteven Soderbergh and Susannah Grant’s smash-hit 2000 movie, which won Julia Roberts her Oscar in the title role.  (Brockovich herself is an Executive Producer of Rebel.)  This time, the Brockovich character has been fictionalized into Annie Flynn Reid Bello (Katey Sagal)–everyone calls her, you guessed it, Rebel–a legal activist (but not a lawyer) who has a trio of exes (John Corbett, James Lesure, Matthew Glave), a trio of children (Ariela Barer, Lex Scott Davis, Kevin Zegers) and an irascible but admiring boss (Andy Garcia).

Rebel never stops earning her nickname, doing battle with evil corporations, her rebellious family and employer, and any wrongdoers she encounters along the way, pulling doubters to her side of every issue by sheer force of will.  Her main mission as the series begins is against a medical corporation that allowed faulty heart valves to stay in use despite the fact that they were fatally infecting thousands of people, among them Rebel’s best friend, who happens to have been her irascible boss’s wife.  Much of the opening episode is devoted to Sagal wearing down the mourning Garcia’s resistance to undertaking a litigation against the company that killed his wife, a result that’s never seriously in doubt.  In her spare time, Rebel rescues the people who cross her path in need of help, in the pilot a woman who’s been the victim of domestic violence.  (Rebel met her during a short stint in jail where she was imprisoned for leading a protest at the medical company’s lawn party.)

Vernoff is a superbly polished craftsperson at the scaffolding of TV episodes, and Rebel is impeccably paced, with an opening hour that’s a model of introducing something like a dozen series regulars and guest stars while simultaneously pushing forward multiple storylines.  (Marc Webb, who directed the pilot, smoothly drives Vernoff’s vehicle along the tracks she’s created.)  She’s got a sumptuously A-list cast that can handle banter and speechifying, led by the always-welcome Katey Sagal, an actress who projects as larger than life while remaining recognizably human.

If Rebel feels more efficient than inspired, it may be because the shadow of Erin Brockovich falls over it.  That film revolved around essentially the same character, yet managed to vary its rhythms and find nuances where Rebel feels very much like a string of sequences where Rebel boisterously tells people what a badass she is, the listeners roll their eyes or dismiss her, and she proceeds to prove exactly how right she is, over and over again.  Unlike the Shonda Rhimes shows Vernoff has run, Rebel is a star vehicle rather than an ensemble piece, and that gives it something of a one-note feeling, even if it’s an engaging note.

Rebel will be given every chance to succeed, starting with its post-Grey’s timeslot, and the hope will be that the series can expand its reach and find more of a range of tone.  All the pieces are present for a memorable TV show, and the assembly requires only that the vision of a true series creator combine with the strengths of the expert showrunner it has.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."