I’m so old that I remember when Jimmy Smits was also carving out a movie career (anyone remember Old Gringo?) during is L.A. Law days. He’s seen his share of films, but television (The West Wing, NYPD Blue, Sons of Anarchy) has been his bread and butter. The Memphis based Bluff City Law has a ton of promise, and if you’re into character driven procedurals, give the pilot a sample taste!
The opening moments of Bluff City Law begins on a close-up of lawyer Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee) in an emotional state. Looking closely at the mirror before her, she understands that she holds the fate of a family in her hands. It’s the obligatory voiceover to start a drama pilot, but sometimes the formula works, and I was immediately hooked on Sydney’s story.
Sydney is an alpha dog corporate lawyer who presumably is all about winning, that is until her father Elijah (Jimmy Smits) brings the tragic news of her mother’s passing. Elijah attempts to recruit his daughter back into his firm which represents the common, everyday folk. He believes Sydney, with all of her natural talent and pinpoint focus, can “change the world,” but she has misgivings about working with dear old dad once again. Though he’s a pillar to the community, Elijah’s philandering ways took its toll on his marriage and relationship with Sydney. She ultimately agrees to come back to his firm to honor of her mother’s wish to see her loved ones together again.
Her first case is a big one, as a corporation called AmeriFarm has a product that may have caused cancer to a dying man. Attempting to secure a settlement seems a major feat when dealing with big business, but Sydney knows a thing or two about the corporate world.
The pilot’s subplot deals with co-worker Jake’s (Barry Sloane) handling of a prisoner who wants apple sauce to be returned to his fellow inmates’ daily meals. Obviously there is more to this case than food, but I’m not going to spoil the rest. Rounding out the cast is Jayne Atkinson as the nurturing and wise member of the firm, Michael Luwoye as another lawyer who works with Sydney and Elijah on the corporate case, and Josh Kelly as a detective who’s also her ex-husband.
Bluff City Law’s most interesting aspect centers on the way Elijah and Sydney approach law and communication. Elijah has a more empathetic manner of dealing with people while the intuitive and brash Sydney cuts right to the chase. Smits and McGee’s chemistry is believable, and experiencing the ebb and flow of their complex relationship should make for an intriguing watch.
Barry Sloane’s character also peaked my interest, and as the firm’s ace it will be interesting to see if he truly warms up to Sydney’s return to the firm. The flavors of Memphis are also sprinkled into the pilot, and hopefully the city will become an integral aspect of the series as well.
Though the “change the world” mission statement may be a bit too dramatic for my tastes, credit goes to the writers for not going overboard on that theme. The characters in Bluff City Law are already well-etched, and I am interested to see what colors they show as the season progresses. Though Smits is the star of Bluff City Law, an engaged ensemble cast, along with the sights and sounds of Memphis, has me looking forward to episode two.
Bluff City Law premieres tonight on NBC (10 pm et/pt).