'Burden of Truth': TV Review

After 'The Outpost,' everything on The CW is going to look OK.
7/25/2018

Kristin Kreuk returns to The CW as a reasonably convincing lawyer in this very Canadian 'Civil Action'-esque legal drama.

By starting its summer of originals a couple weeks ago with the fantasy drama The Outpost, The CW successfully recalibrated expectations. After watching The Outpost, one of the most perplexingly amateurish shows I've ever seen get broadcast network airtime, almost anything would look good in comparison.

The CW's second original of the summer, the Canadian acquisition Burden of Truth, premieres Wednesday and is, indeed, the beneficiary of its predecessor's ineptitude. The show, which continues star and executive producer Kristin Kreuk's relationship with the network, is a so-so character-driven legal drama with just enough on its mind to carry my interest across the four episodes sent to critics.

Although the core conceit of Burden of Truth has fish-out-of-water similarities to The CW's Hart of Dixie, it is cut from pretty serious and straight-forward cloth, with very little humor and almost no soapy romance to speak of. For that reason, Burden of Truth doesn't really feel like anything else The CW has aired in recent years, but unlike the abiding mystery behind why The Outpost ever saw the light of day at all, this is respectfully done genre fare that probably could fill a need for some viewers.

Kreuk plays Joanna Hanley, a big-city corporate lawyer working at the same firm as her slick boyfriend (Benjamin Ayres) and powerhouse father (Alex Carter). When high-school girls in rural Millwood begin experiencing seizures and other degenerative conditions, Joanna has to return to what turns out to have been her hometown. Nobody in Millwood is happy to see her, because Joanna is representing the Big Pharma company behind the HPV vaccinations everybody in the community is assuming caused the illness. Joanna is a cutthroat and prepared to do anything necessary to make the case go away, but when it turns out the vaccine may not be to blame, something human is triggered in her and she decides to stick around to help local lawyer Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney), who used to cut her lawn (not a euphemism) as a boy, get to the bottom of the mystery. Naturally, this crusade causes her to butt heads with her father and boyfriend.

Created by Brad Simpson (Rookie Blue), Burden of Truth resists the temptation to make a quick pivot into a small-town case-of-the-week procedural structure. Joanna has no time for the frivolity of local lawsuits or petty crimes, even as B-stories in episodes. Burden of Truth is a highly serialized single case stretched across a single season, like Damages with fewer ethical complications or like a really padded, Julia Roberts-free version of Erin Brockovich. The show is carried along on basically two questions: "Why are these girls getting sick?" and "What scandal caused Joanna's family to leave Millwood in the dead of night?" The second question is much less interesting than the first, but at least it gives the show something else to do when Joanna isn't working, something that blissfully takes the place of a needless romance between Joanna and Billy in the early episodes.

After spending four years hilariously miscast as a detective on The CW's Beauty & the Beast, Kreuk is quite fine on Burden of Truth. She delivers legal mumbo-jumbo in competent monologues and gives Joanna the prickly undercurrent of a woman who has always prioritized her job over social niceties. It helps that for her to be convincing enough to hold together the series, she need only be as convincing as the show's approach to the law, which is mighty flimsy. It starts with a title that's like the near-beer of legal jargon and continues through shoddy precedent citing and the treatment of lawyers as detectives-meet-epidemiologists so at a certain point, "close enough" is good enough for both the lead performance and the legal machinations.

The supporting cast is pretty thin, especially handsome-but-forgettable leading men Mooney and, to a more supporting degree, Ayres. Sara Thompson and Anwen O'Driscoll are both natural and unstudied as two of the ailing girls. O'Driscoll in particular manages to survive one of the most cliché-laden rants I've ever seen as she tears Joanna to shreds — with both a "Your job is to screw people over — good, hard-working people" and a "How can you live with yourself?" — in the pilot. I appreciated Star Slade for providing the only note or two of humor in the entire series.

With its roots pointing to CBC and not The CW, Burden of Truth earns some points for simply owning its Canadian identity and not masquerading as something generically North American. From the star athlete being recruited by McGill to the casual references to Winnipeg to a First Nations subplot that may actually be the show's most distinctive element, I preferred this geographic candor to The CW's normal "Vancouver can be anywhere" ethos. The Manitoba locations are nicely shot, and Millwood is a fine mixture of blue-collar authenticity — finding poisoning culprits is tough in a town with a rubber plant, steel mill and tire factory — and photogenic waves of grain.

The last time I reflected on the simple joys of a clean legal procedural was probably ABC's For the People. Burden of Truth isn't as well-cast or as clever as that ShondaLand production, but it's a professionally made, low-impact summer diversion, and The Outpost reminded me not to take such things for granted.

Cast: Kristin Kreuk, Peter Mooney, Star Slade, Nicola Correia-Damude, David Lawrence Brown, Meegwun Fairbrother, Anwen O'Driscoll, Sara Thompson, Benjamin Ayres, Alex Carter
Creator: Brad Simpson
Premieres: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT (The CW)