March 14, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere TV Review: “For the People”


FOR THE PEOPLE:  Tuesday 10PM on ABC – In the Queue

Things may change when Shonda Rhimes moves to Netflix, but in her ABC incarnation, her name on a project creates a certain set of expectations, which the new FOR THE PEOPLE mostly satisfies.  The pilot for the series, created by former Scandal writer/producer Paul William Davies, and directed by longtime ShondaLand hand Tom Verica, follows the template of the first Grey’s Anatomy hour fairly closely, even if the place is New York instead of Seattle, and the milieu is law rather than medicine.

We meet our attractive young leads on their first days of work, being sworn in as Assistant US Attorneys or federal public defenders.  The former group includes insecure Seth Oliver (Ben Rappaport), very secure Leonard Knox (Rege-Jean Page), and rigid Kate Littlejohn (Susannah Flood), while the defense attorneys are law school besties Sandra Bell (Britt Robertson) and Allison Adams (Jasmin Savoy Brown)–neither of them refers to the other as their “person,” but you get the idea–and nerdy Jay Simmons (Wesam Keesh).  Each team has a knowledgeable, arrogant boss (think Dr. Bailey), with Roger Gunn (Ben Shenkman) for the prosecutors and Jill Marcus (Hope Davis) for the defense, who scorn and inspire their troops as needed.

Everyone bounces repartee off everyone else, while alternately being brilliant, driven and painfully naive.  The main case in the opener pits Sandra against Leonard with a charge of attempted terrorism on the line, which unfortunately turns on a ridiculously contrived example of Sandra breaking what’s always referred to as the first rule of lawyering:  never ask a witness something to which you don’t know the answer.  The B and C plots include an insider trading case and one against a con man.  None of these are as interesting as the bizarre medical conditions Grey’s digs up or presented in much depth, although Davies handles them smoothly enough.

In the early going, at least, there’s less about the romantic lives of the protagonists than the usual ShondaLand agenda, except that Seth and Allison begin the pilot as a couple, and there’s some modest flirtation throughout.  For The People is a lot breezier than Rhimes’s other legal show, the twist-upon-twist How To Get Away With Murder, which makes it easier to take but also less intriguing, and there’s certainly no one here to compare to the powerhouse that is Viola Davis, even with Anna Deveare Smith on hand in a supporting role as the court clerk.

For The People is more easy to take than remarkable, which is still a marked improvement for ABC over the series that have been inhabiting the Tuesday 10PM “death slot” in recent years.  It delivers an hour of digestible if not memorable entertainment, the kind of seemingly effortless craft that the network will miss when ShondaLand shuts its broadcast doors.  It’s a misdemeanor, but it knows its way around the courtroom.

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."