In her new ABC series, Katey Sagal steps into some very familiar shoes — the very same ones Julia Roberts won an Oscar in more than 20 years ago. Rebel, which focuses on Annie “Rebel” Bello (Sagal), is another take on Erin Brockovich, one of Roberts’ most notable roles. Brockovich’s story is bigger than the movie that made her a household name, which is why the new series uses it as a jumping off point.
Sagal’s Rebel is a legal advocate who helps people fighting greedy corporations, including a medical company’s faulty heart valves. Rebel, like both the real Brockovich and the movie version, helps underdogs — only in the new show, the character is more of an observer. It's fitting for the real Brockovich, who serves as an executive producer on Rebel.
“I’m older, wiser, more evolved,” Brockovich recently told the Lake Geneva Regional News. “I have different approaches, different ways that I handle [cases]. But I’m still just as frustrated at being underestimated or put in a box.”
In the 2000 film, Erin is an unemployed single mother who ends up working for her lawyer, Ed, and taking on the energy company PG&E. Upon starting her job, Erin is given a case regarding PG&E trying to buy Donna Jensen’s California home, but the file contains medical records. Erin is confused by the records, but Donna explains: she had several tumors and her husband Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but the energy company always covered doctors. After some investigating, Erin learns the groundwater is contaminated with carcinogenic hexavalent chromium, which PG&E told residents was “safer."
Erin wins over the trust of the community affected by the chromium and discovers more medical issues among the residents — and that they were nearly all treated by PG&E’s doctors. The evidence only implicates the local chapter of the company though, not corporate.
Eventually, Erin and Ed convince the residents to agree to arbitration, and one of the residents, Charles, turns out to be a former PG&E employee who has documents that implicate PG&E corporate. The evidence is key, and PG&E is eventually ordered to pay a settlement to the residents — a win for Erin.
Since taking on PG&E in 1993, the real Brockovich has continued her work as an environmental activist and consumer advocate. In 2003, she settled a lawsuit regarding toxic mold in her own California home and, in the same year, filed a suit against the Beverly Hills Unified School district after a contractor operated on oil wells on the campus. Hexavalent chromium came up again in another case she assisted in 2009, and Brockovich occasionally writes about environmental issues.
These later years mark the chapter in Brockovich's life that inspired Rebel, but because ABC's protagonist bears another name entirely, there's no telling where she'll take us next.