Resistant. Defiant. Unyielding. This is Annie Bello (Katey Sagal, “Sons of Anarchy”) in a nutshell. These traits have earned her the nickname “Rebel” in ABC’s new show of the same name. Based on the legendary Erin Brockovich, Rebel is a legal advocate and an avid fighter for justice. Although she lacks a law degree, with some helpful connections and an unmatched drive, she has become famous (and sometimes infamous) for her activism.
Brockovich’s work targeted Pacific Gas & Electric and revealed that the company had been contaminating the drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., with hexavalent chromium, causing an exponential increase of cancer among the town’s residents. Similarly, Rebel is fighting against a medical company whose heart valves are causing patients to become more ill than they previously were.
The show’s creator, Krista Vernoff, is known for her other series “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Station 19.” With the former’s Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and the latter’s Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz), it’s with no surprise that this series has a badass leading lady, too. What is a bit different, and actually very refreshing, in Vernoff’s newest show is that Rebel is not a young woman with a long list of college degrees or physical skills, but a mother, a wife and an extremely intelligent woman who fights for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Nevertheless, “Rebel” doesn’t stray too far from these other ABC fan favorites in that its pilot episode never lacked drama or action; in fact, there were copious amounts of it, almost to a fault. The plotline becomes rather unrealistic, though, as Rebel aims to take down corporations much more powerful than she is. Between her extreme protests, numerous arrests and complicated family life, her world becomes increasingly far-fetched as the episode progresses.
Rebel has three children from three different marriages. Although currently married to the third husband in the premiere, it’s clear that none of her marriages have been picture-perfect. Yet, all three men and their respective children are strangely friends. One ex is a cop and the other is a lawyer, which is all very convenient when it comes to Rebel’s line of work. Aside from having exchanged vows with the same woman, these men seem to have one other thing in common: agreeing that Rebel is a difficult person to be married to.
So, while empowering women, the show is simultaneously resorting to the misconception that a woman who works is not always the ideal wife or mother. This is further emphasized by Rebel’s children, two of whom feel neglected during childhood because of her profession. In other words, she put the needs of strangers before the needs of her family, yet we don’t often see a working father and husband being penalized for these same actions in the media.
Granted, Brockovich’s life story seems improbable as well: a single mother trying to make ends meet only to win the “largest toxic tort injury settlement in US history.” Simply put, she is one in a million. Even so, as proven by “Rebel,” television shows can turn remarkable real-life events into overdone, cliché stories. And so, while watching the first episode of ABC’s new series, it’s easy to question whether “Rebel” is doing Brockovich an injustice rather than honoring her feats, as originally intended.
Rebel is undoubtedly a controversial woman, much like Brockovich, which is made explicit throughout the episode. Her need to take down corrupt corporations is admirable, but it’s also idealized. If fighting injustice was as easy as “Rebel” makes it seem, we would have no injustice to fight. Yet, not everyone has the family connections, money or security Rebel does. Brockovich most definitely did not. Hopefully, in the upcoming episodes, this can be made a bit more apparent.
Daily Arts Writer Molly Hirsch can be reached at email@example.com.