Now that the fall TV season has officially started, we no longer have to hear that woman scream during the Bluff City Law commercials. That woman is Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee) who isn’t going through a nervous breakdown. It’s just her way of coping with her job as a lawyer. Her father is the successful good guy, Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smitts). Smitts looks pretty comfortable playing a lawyer. He should; he got a lot of training playing one in NBC’s previous series L.A. Law from 1986-1992. Here he plays a brilliant lawyer heading up a Memphis law firm. But while he’s a big deal in the courtroom, he messed up plenty in his personal life.
As we learn early on in the show’s pilot episode, he and Sydney used to work together at the law firm but their working and personal relationship began to crumble years before. We aren’t given a lot of reasons why, but I’m sure more information will come with each new episode. One thing we know for sure is that he cheated on who Elijah calls the “love of his life” numerous times and yet, his wife continued to stay with him. Sydney, however, could not. The only reason that the two are communicating at all has to do with the sudden death of Sydney’s mother. For some reason, Elijah thinks that after all of the guests have left from the funeral is an opportune time to ask Sydney to come back to the firm to help him “change the world.”
Of course Sydney takes him up on his offer, or we wouldn’t have show to watch. As it turns out, she isn’t exactly the easiest person to live or work with either. She’s a hot head who tends to storm out of the room when she doesn’t get her way. Even so, there are still cases to be won, namely one involving a fictional weed killer that is supposedly known for causing cancer in humans. (Sound familiar RoundUp?)
There is more to Bluff City Law than just the father/daughter duo; there’s a bunch of characters to keep track of each with a lot of layers to peel back. I like that in a new show. Rather than explain every last detail, the series portions out a little bit here and there.
Some characters in the show appear only briefly in the first episode making it a little difficult to see how they fit in. From what I can tell, the law firm is staffed with Della Bedford (Jayne Atkinson) who appears to run the office and act like everyone’s surrogate mother. Jake Reilly (Barry Sloane) is a lawyer who is working on a separate case trying to figure out why his client is admitting guilt when Jake knows that his client is innocent. Sydney meets Emerson Howe (Stony Blyden) who is new to the firm. He is a young, quirky computer geek who “takes some getting used to.” As it turns out, he has a secret too.
I’m not entirely clear what Briana Johnson (Maame Yaa Boafo) does at the firm, but apparently she is good friends with Sydney. Robbie Ellis (Josh Kelly) shows up only briefly letting Sydney out of the holding tank when she gets out of line during a court case and Anthony Little (Michael Luwoye) fits in somewhere as well.
Overall, I like what I see. Bluff City Law moves at a brisk pace and kept my interest the whole time. The father/daughter dynamic is a good one and it helps to show how both are complicated and imperfect people. For better of worse, these flawed people seem pretty relatable. If they were perfect, there would be no reason to watch. I will say that the show felt a little preachy with all the “change the world” talk, but I can get past that.
Bluff City Law premieres on Monday, September 23 at 10 p.m. on NBC.
(Photo: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.