Ultra Vires


Raising the Bar: A Review of Family Law

Global TV’s new show centered around a Vancouver-based family law firm and the drama that ensues within

When I heard about a new television show that would centre around family law, I was not optimistic. This is not to say that law-related TV is bad; I used to love Suits and How to Get Away with Murder. Of course, I should also give a special shoutout to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for inspiring a young me to pursue a career in law (although I am certain I am not alone in this). 

I just felt that law-inspired shows were overplayed, and steered into hyperbole too often for me to enjoy. I understand that these shows are meant to entertain and not to educate. However, I got tired of watching the annoyingly lavish lifestyle of lawyers on TV, and watching montage after montage of someone sitting at their desk reading and eating takeout. 

I was also unsure of the direction a show centered on family law issues would go in. After my limited time working in family law over the summer, I could not imagine how a TV show would portray the problems in that field. Would it be dramatic, portraying heart-wrenching stories about tumultuous divorces and families splitting up? Or, would they go the comedic route and focus on the sometimes absurd plots of real family relationships? 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first episode was a mix of both. The show starts off by introducing us to personal injury lawyer Abigail Bianchi, the protagonist, intoxicated in her car before a trial appearance. After showing up late to her case and throwing up in front of the courtroom, she is suspended from practicing and has to seek refuge at her estranged father’s law firm. 

The episode then explains that Bianchi’s father, Harry Svensson, has two other children who work for him, each from a different mother. Evidently, we find tension between the three siblings as the story plays out. You also discover that Bianchi is having troubles with her own family, including marital problems with her husband who is—conveniently—a family lawyer. The rest of the episode deals with the complicated issue of parental rights associated with sperm donors, an ambitious topic to cover for a pilot.

The first thing I will say about this show is that I appreciate its Canadianness. Filmed and set in Vancouver, it is rare to see TV programs showcasing Canadian stories, especially legal dramas which tend to be located in big U.S. cities such as New York City (even when, as in the case of Suits, the show is filmed in Toronto). The show features Canadian actors and actresses, including London, Ontario native Victor Garber, who plays the Svensson family patriarch.

I also admire that the show’s writer, Susin Nielson, used her own family dynamic to influence the Svensson family drama. Nielsen told Vancouver Sun that she thinks family law can be an interesting realm to work in because so many people have their own family dysfunctions. I think there is definitely a lot of room for Family Law to tell unique stories about different familial relationships that viewers might find relatable, especially given the diversity within the cast itself. 

I will add that I enjoyed the show’s pacing. It was quick and did well to intertwine witty material with the more serious, heartfelt moments. I am not thrilled that they decided to highlight the all-too-common alcoholic lawyer stereotype. However, I am interested to see how they will deal with the problem of addiction and mental health in the legal field while also keeping a fairly light-hearted tone.

I would probably watch the second episode. There is a lot of potential to develop the characters introduced in this first episode in an engaging, entertaining manner. I hope to see the show delve into challenging legal matters, which will be particularly interesting to see played out in a Canadian context.

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