The new drama from “Empire” co-creator Danny Strong premieres 9 p.m. Feb. 15.

A television drama about the rampant injustices of the criminal justice system likely isn’t the easiest sale to audiences looking for a reprieve from today’s society of inescapable vitriol and prejudice.

But Rachelle Lefevre believes her new show, Fox’s “Proven Innocent” (premiering 9 p.m. Feb. 15), can actually offer that momentary relief from the near-constant bombardment of bad news.

Lefevre stars as Madeline, a defense attorney who represents people falsely imprisoned by the system, particularly at the hands of Gore Bellows, a malicious prosecutor played by Kelsey Grammer.

Her distaste for his ruthless methods dates back to when he tried and convicted Madeline and her brother Levi (Riley Smith) for a murder they didn’t commit, sending them both in jail for a decade.

“Proven Innocent” is a procedural with a mission at heart, pulling its stories from real-life wrongful convictions and using those injustices and the issues that drive them (race, socio-economic class, etc.) to interrogate a broken system that has stolen years from those it’s failed.

As a news junkie, Lefevre said she feels a compulsion to stay socially aware and soak in every story that scrolls across the 24-hour news cycle. But everyone has a breaking point.

“I think a lot of us have bad news and injustice fatigue that sets in,” she said. “I think entertainment can play a role and offer a chance to continue the conversation in a way that is little more digestible and maybe even pleasant. You can get a little bit of satisfaction with our show because we are a fictional story that can give you the positive outcome you wish you saw in the news.”

That light in the dark, like a rush of vitamin D when stepping out into the sun, is something she finds herself in need of these days.

“At this point, I will take the satisfaction, even if it’s in fictional form,” she said.

But viewers shouldn’t expect an endless stream of happy endings from “Proven Innocent,” which pulls its stories from the potency of the true-to-life issues.

Not only did Lefevre, who starred in the CBS series “Under the Dome,” spend time researching real cases with The Innocence Project prior to shooting, but real exonerees have also paid visits to the Chicago set to share their stories, consult on the process and allow the cast to get a flesh-and-blood sense of the consequences of the cases on the docket each week.

“When you hear these people’s stories, you have to pick your jaw up off the floor,” she said. “You realize these aren’t just stories we are telling. This happens to real people.”

Beyond the case-of-the-week format, the overarching backbone of the series are the wounds that drive Madeline and cripple her brother - both of whom are portraits of the residual effects of false imprisonment.

“Madeline takes it incredibly personally and makes it a crusade to help others … and for Levi, it really destroys him because he doesn’t find meaning in it and is just a victim who struggles to reintegrate into society,” she said. “I like that we show both sides because it’s not simple.”

Fueling Madeline’s choices (including reopening the still-unsolved murder of her best friend, of which she was convicted) is the constant chance to duel in court with Gore, the kind of sparring partner that Lefevre hopes for.
“I knew I was going to get that in Kelsey because he is quite a force,” she said. “But you also want going to work to be a pleasant experience, and he is just lovely to work with.”

Finding Madeline’s voice and strength despite having 10 years stolen from her have been a challenge for Lefevre, but it has also given her a renewed sense of power in facing the litany of social and moral dilemmas that plague America today.

“I feel less helpless now than when I started this show,” she said. “You sometimes feel this paralysis because the world’s problems are too big and it seems there’s nothing I can do. But this experience has changed that for me.”

She encourages viewers to research organizations dedicated to fighting for those falsely accused and imprisoned, and then watch “Proven Innocent” to see that sometimes justice can be served - even if it’s just television.

“Come for the social justice, stay for the catharsis,” she said.
Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com. Hunter is a member of the Television Critics Association.