Both sides of the law: 'For the People' pits public defenders against prosecutors

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Kenneth Andeel / TV Media
Britt Robertson stars in "For the People"

Britt Robertson stars in "For the People"

The successful resolution of a second season of any show is an achievement to be celebrated, and this week, cast and crew of legal drama "For the People" can do just that. The series premiered in 2018, and its first season achieved mediocre ratings and was a frequent target of cancellation buzz. A second season was far from guaranteed, but "For the People" managed to persevere through the challenges and the negativity, and this week the curtain falls on its sophomore year. The Season 2 finale of "For the People" airs Thursday, May 16, on ABC, and the show's modest but dedicated fanbase is about to start holding its collective breath in hopes of a third.

"For the People" follows teams of lawyers who work for opposing sides of the justice system in the Southern District of New York, which, as the oldest federal trial court in the United States, has been informally nicknamed "The Mother Court."

One of the most intriguing qualities of "For the People" -- and one that sets it apart from the numerous other legal dramas on the network landscape -- is its dual focus on characters working both for the defense and the prosecution. Many shows limit their purview to one side or the other, but "For the People" offers the perspectives of both groups, and it presents plenty of opportunities for the two sides to mingle.

The large cast of the show is led by Britt Robertson ("Under the Dome") and Jasmin Savoy Brown ("The Leftovers"), who play two federal public defenders, the hard-working newcomer Sandra Bell and the passionate Allison Adams, respectively. Other public defenders include Hope Davis ("Captain America: Civil War," 2016) as seasoned supervisor Jill Carlan, and Wesam Keesh ("Awkward") as rookie lawyer Jay Simmons.

The prosecutorial team is led by veteran chief prosecutor Roger Gunn, played by Ben Shenkman ("Royal Pains"), and the intense prodigy Kate Littlejohn, played by Susannah Flood ("Chicago Fire"). Their colleagues include Regé-Jean Page ("Roots") as the brilliant but overconfident Leonard Knox, and Ben Rappaport ("Mr. Robot") as competent overachiever Seth Oliver. Overseeing all of these players is Tina Krissman, a supremely dedicated and stubbornly ethical Clerk of the Court, played by Anna Deavere Smith ("The West Wing").

Many of the lawyers on both teams are baby-faced newcomers recently brought into the fold by their respective sides of the law, and the show chronicles their successes and failures as they familiarize themselves with the complex environment in which they've elected to work. The show comes from Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland production company, which is known for hit series such as medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" and political thriller "Scandal. " "For the People" tries to emulate the successful formula of those shows by alternating between a micro focus (on the messy and complicated relationships of the characters) and a macro focus (on the big-picture legal and moral issues brought up through the plot of each episode). Viewers of the show can expect melodrama mixed with a robust examination of legal casework.

Anna Deavere Smith as seen in "For the People"

Anna Deavere Smith as seen in "For the People"

On several occasions, the cast and creators of "For the People" have commented on their intent to distance themselves from the ripped-from-the-headlines strategy many legal dramas utilize, but the show still attempts to stay topical by imagining cases that are relevant to current issues within American culture at large. Some of the early episodes of Season 2 dealt with contemporary issues like "swatting" (pranksters calling in false reports of emergencies to provoke the dispatch of a SWAT team to interrupt, embarrass and harass public figures) and the separation of undocumented immigrants from their family members by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

Between the first and second season, some speculation emerged that "For the People" would be a perfect venue for Shondaland character crossovers, and many hoped that familiar faces might show up from other series in that production house's portfolio. No crossover has happened so far, which has come as a disappointment to some fans, but others are holding out hope that the tail end of the second season could still contain some surprises.

Making big moves like that could be a good idea for the show, since its ratings over the course of its second season have not improved. Fans of the show who want to see a Season 3 are very likely hoping the creators will pull out all the stops to generate some buzz and lure more eyeballs to "For the People's" courtroom dramatics.

The Season 2 finale of "For the People airs Thursday, May 16, on ABC, and you may want to cross your fingers that the concluding episode contains enough fireworks and intrigue to earn the show another run of episodes next year.