A Rebel With A Cause

Katey Sagal Leads A Potentially Great Series

Loud, proud and the role of a lifetime commonsensemedia.org

In a career on TV that is now entering its fifth decade, Katey Sagal has always been one of the great forces driving series. Her work as Peg on Married…With Children was one of the most outstanding comic creations, even if you didn’t realize the satiric genius behind it. For the better part of fourteen years, she voiced Leela, the tough talking one-eyed mail courier at the center of Futurama, the animated series so good it survived cancellation twice. And of course, she played the mother of all mothers Gemma at the center of the cult classic Sons of Anarchy, scheming and utterly fearless until the moment her son killed her.

Sagal has been around for so many years in so many series — 8 Simple Rules, Shameless, Superior Donuts — that it’s actually stunning to learn that she made it to her late sixties and has yet to be the lead on a series of any kind. So in a way, it’s fitting that she has taken on the title character of ABC’s Rebel — the network that brought us Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder in the past decade, and yes, there is a very faint Shonda Rhimes connection here. But Rebel is notably different than so many other series from the Shondaland group. Annie Rebello is based on the life of Erin Brockovich the crusader who was already causing corporations to weep when Julia Roberts won an Oscar for playing her twenty years ago. Rebel is still trying to bring down the bad guys, but unlike Olivia Pope and Annalyse Keating, who seemed to be hated in public and loved by their disciples, the series gets off to present Annie as someone who is in the opposite — the world loves her, her own family and friends are actually starting to getting tired of her. Her own daughter calls her exhausting and is willing to quit her mother’s quest and work for her father, an attorney who defends the corporations her mother attacks (we’ll get to that in a minute) mainly to earn some kind of freedom.

Nor is she alone in that regard. In the Pilot, husband number three (John Corbett looks ageless) is about to divorce her because he’s tired of coming in second to everything. Her gynecologist son (Kevin Zegers) is basic bullied into starting a study for his mom’s latest case and actually seems annoyed when she learns that his mom is right. He chases down a cardiac surgeon for help in this study who he has forgotten that he went out with, and its suggested by a conversation with his sister that the intimacy issues his mom has been passed down to her children. And she basically spends the first two episodes bullying the head of the law firm into taking on her class action to deal with a company that manufactures a faulty heart valve by playing on the fact his wife, who had the heart valve died. You get the feeling Rebel is so sure of her own righteousness that she now no longer has patience for anyone who disagrees with her, even her own family.

Sagal sinks her teeth into this role like it’s the one she’s been waiting her entire career for and she is truly great at it. She’s also backed up by one of the best supporting casts on network television today. Mary McConnell plays the patient at the center of the class action, a woman so withered with pain that you can barely see the woman she used to be. Dan Bucanitsky who was, frankly, the best thing about Scandal, plays Patient X, a battered down professor who is being bullied by a student he gave bad grades for, and whose snide nature wins us over.

But the biggest draw to Rebel, other than Sagal, is Andy Garcia as Cruz, the lawyer who runs the firm that is at the center of the series. Ever since he burst on to the scene in The Godfather, Part III Garcia has never quite gotten the credit that he has been due, even though he has given several extraordinary performances in many independent films. You’d think that because his wife has died from this valve that he’d be on Rebel’s side, but it’s just the opposite. All these years he’s been unable to deal with his wife’s death, unwilling to look at her autopsy and still talking to her picture. Despite this, he is loyal to Rebel, and takes the defection of her daughter to the enemy very personally. The scenes near the end of last night’s episode were powerful as he first accepted that his wife could have been saved and then gave an impassioned speech on defeating the corporation that did this. One can only imagine how angry he’ll be when he learns Rebel’s daughter now represents that firm.

I’ve spent so long deriding any series that has even the hint of a Shonda Rhimes connection that it might seem strange of me to praise this one. But I was a huge fan of For the People, a legal drama that had all of the strengths of those series and none of the constant bed hopping. This series comes from the creator of Station 19 but doesn’t even bear the Shondaland trademark. I have a feeling ABC promoted it as coming from that creator to try and boost its brand to get more viewers. It doesn’t need it. Rebel is a brilliant, angry drama that has come around at just the right time, when the entire world is getting pissed at how badly corporations are screwing us. The world needs more Rebels, and frankly, network TV needs more series like this.

My score: 4.25 stars.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.