'Notorious' Premiere: What Works, What Needs Work

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo TV

In the series premiere of ABC’s Notorious, the scandal-filled drama holding down Scandal‘s timeslot during Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, we meet a powerful defense attorney, Daniel Sunjata’s Jake, and a cunning TV producer, Piper Perabo’s Julia, who have a unique arrangement: when he needs to plant reasonable doubt, he books an appearance on her show (either himself, his client, or someone who can help his client), and she gets the scoop and the ratings.

We’re supposed to still like them because while even her staff at Louise Herrick Live doesn’t know the full extent of their manipulative scheming, they’re honest with each other and do want justice served. For example, Jake told Julia to throw Sarah (Dilshad Vadsaria), the ex-girlfriend he’d just slept with, to the wolves after learning that she lied to him about being on Ambien the night she killed a 15-year-old boy in a hit-and-run — the crime Jake’s client, Sarah’s estranged tech billionaire husband, Oscar Keaton (Kevin Zegers), stands accused of. Only Louise Herrick (Kate Jennings Grant) never got the chance to go at Sarah: Oscar called Jake to their house right before she was to appear on the show. Sarah’s dead. Murdered.

Doing their own digging, Jake and Julia discovered that Sarah was trying to get a fake passport. And Julia, who’d previously been sent a photo of Sarah’s dead body from an unknown number, also later received photos of Oscar with another woman, Sarah sporting a bad bruise on her face, and, oh yes, Jake and Sarah in bed.

Related: ‘Notorious’ Star Daniel Sunjata on His Hopes for the Scandalous Drama

What Works: The chemistry between Sunjata and Perabo is solid. You believe the trust between Jake and Julia —  who are loosely based on famous defense attorney Mark Geragos and Wendy Walker, who was the senior executive producer of Larry King Live for 18 years. Her staff was more fleshed out in the pilot than his: who isn’t looking forward to hearing more about guest wrangler Megan’s (Sepideh Moafier) past as an escort, which was convenient so she could recognize Julia’s federal judge boyfriend as a former client? (See ya, Marc Blucas.) And bravo for casting The Boy Next Door‘s Ryan Guzman as Ryan, the new production assistant who wants to prove his qualifications go beyond being the network president’s son. He’s not afraid to use his good looks to charm and tail an attorney (Jake’s associate Ella, played by Aimeé Teegarden) for the good of the show, but he doesn’t seem willing to sleep his way to the top (at least not in a three-way with Louise and her musician boy toy).

What Needs Works: Louise. The woman can have sex with her barbecuing boyfriend in her dressing room minutes before air and still nail her guest in the hot seat. Bravo? Tonally, her over-the-top sexploits were jarring (did some poor PA once have to fetch condoms and a bottle of Baileys for Larry King?), and the verdict is still out on whether we’re meant to dislike her, be entertained by her, or both.

It does feel like Nancy Grace’s gotcha! heyday is over, but the public’s fascination with true crime stories played out in the media still exists. See the success of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsay, and Netflix’s upcoming documentary Amanda Knox. Those cases are ones with which we have years of history, and again, they were real. The challenge was for Notorious‘s writers to get us hooked and invested in a fake crime in an hour. Did they succeed? Sarah’s connection to Jake should make us care about her, but then again, she married a billionaire social media mogul with a face you want to punch so…

Our Burning Questions: The big one, will Sarah’s murder take all season to solve, we actually have an answer to! “I can tell you that I don’t have the attention span to do a ‘murder case of the season,‘” executive producer Josh Berman says. “I like to go through story much quicker than that. While the Oscar Keaton case will continue — I won’t say how many episodes — it will resolve itself within the first half of the season. Every episode will also have a standalone case — a beginning, middle, and end.”

How much screentime will J. August Richards get as Jake’s brother, fellow attorney Bradley. Sunjata is interested in exploring that relationship on the show. “It’s very clear, and it’s not even commented on, that we are men of color who have risen to a level of supreme success in a world — the world of legal criminal defense in Los Angeles — that is predominantly not dominated by men of color. That’s a story in and of itself,” he said during our recent Facebook Live chat. “These are black guys with an Armenian last name, and they look nothing alike — and there’s reasons for that, and we’re gonna get into exploring all of that. As black men, as men of color in general, both J. August Richards and myself, we’ve had private conversations about the fact that, you know, that kind of needs to be shown or explored in some way [too], that we know where we came from. We know how hard it has been for us to get where we we’ve gotten, and we’ve done it as brothers. And as brothers.”

And also, how many episodes until Guzman is shirtless?

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Notorious airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC. Watch clips and full episodes of Notoriousfor free on Yahoo View.