The Canadian import “Burden of Truth,” premiering Wednesday on the CW, begins as a group of high school girls in the fictional prairie town of Millwood start to manifest neurological symptoms — tics, seizures, balance difficulties, fuzziness of mind — that locals attribute to a vaccine against human papillomavirus.
Hotshot corporate attorney Joanna Hanley (Kristin Kreuk, who was Lana Lang on “Smallville”), who just happens to have grown up in Millwood, is dispatched by her father-boss (Alex Carter) from the generic Big City to offer preemptive settlements on behalf of the drug’s manufacturer, raising conflicting emotions within the viewer from the start: vaccines good, big city corporate lawyers bad.
Joanna, of whom her father says, “No filter, no conscience. God made you the perfect lawyer,” will experience conflicts of her own, as one red herring swallows another, the town grows increasingly upset and our heroine comes to wonder whether there might be a good reason she gets punched in the face just for saying her name. (Millwood is painted as a place where people punch other people as a matter of course, but this is the only actual instance; it doesn’t really seem that bad a place.) Joanna, who has unquestioningly accepted her father’s bland explanation for their leaving town, even though it involved moving suddenly in the middle of night, is slow to ask why, and nobody else is in a rush to tell.
Curiously enough, it is only one of two series beginning Wednesday in which a lawyer returns to a troubled small town after a long absence to uncover secrets not only about the case at hand but also about her own past. (See “Castle Rock,” on Hulu, a horror story set in the Stephen King universe.)
This version has something of the feel of a Lifetime movie writ long. Women dominate the cast and get things done, even when the system treats them inequitably, a fact explicitly stated now and again. Their relationships are the heart of the story, including but not limited to: Joanna and her old friend Diana (Nicola Correia-Damude), now the high-school guidance counselor; Joanna and Luna (Star Slade), her self-appointed assistant; Luna and her girlfriend Molly (a quietly impressive Sara Thompson), an ailing high school soccer star and the niece of Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney), the hunky small town lawyer Joanna initially finds herself opposing.
And though Joanna and Billy will professionally join forces, the writers are not in too much of a hurry to kindle a romance — they may never get around to it. Odds are they will, but it’s fine if they don’t. There’s plenty else going on.
Created by Brad Simpson (“Rookie Blue”), the series is as good as it needs to be, and maybe a little better. Like other Canadian dramas that have made their way south across the 49th parallel, it is attractively modest in ambition and execution, without feeling cheap or flimsy. Many of the elements in the story are familiar, which is not the least attraction of this summer entertainment, the narrative version of a beach read. (It premiered in Canada in the dead of winter, when the elements also might make one want to not think too hard.)
At the same time, “Burden of Truth” cleverly plays with expectations, our willingness to run ahead of it a little, toward the usual suspects, before jerking the narrative hard to the side and sending things off in another direction for a while. It does become something of a pattern, as do the oddly repeated demands that something needs to be decided or accomplished “in 24 hours,” but that is just how it is with long-arc mysteries dished out in weekly installments. Crisis makes way for crisis.
‘Burden of Truth’
Where: The CW
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd