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BLUFF CITY LAW Pilot Review: A Folksy Slice of Warm Apple Pie

By on September 16, 2019

BLUFF CITY LAW — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait, Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford, MaameYaa Boafo as Briana Johnson, Barry Sloane as Jake Reilly, Caitlin McGee as Sydney Strait, Josh Kelly as Robbie Ellis, Michael Luwoye as Anthony Little, Stony Blyden as Emerson Howe — (Photo by: Paul Gilmore/NBC)

Bluff City Law, a procedural legal drama focusing on the sometimes tense personal and professional relationship between a successful father daughter lawyer duo, premieres tonight, and looks set to continue in the warm, fuzzy, feel-good vein as NBC’s This is Us.

The action opens with Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee), a brilliant young lawyer who is working for the Big Guy (and sticking it to the little guy without a shred of guilt) when we first meet her. In fact, the opening moments (later bookended in a similar scene) showcase Sydney’s razor sharp instincts, and we shudder to think just how many class action law suits she has crushed in her time.

But then it’s time for a plot twist. Enter Dad Elijah Srait (Jimmy Smits), who is both the bearer of bad news (mom is dead), and an offer: come back home to Memphis and work alongside Dad defending the little guy against Big Pharma, unscrupulous industrialists, and all other manner of corporate nasties.

Despite Sydney and Elijah’s previous tumultuous relationship, Sydney decides to give it a second go, partly to reconnect with her Dad, and partly because she finally acknowledges her long held desire to change the world is not panning out as she quite imaged. Switching sides, she returns to Memphis to work with Dad and his firm of hard-working, honest, lovable, colorful associates, where as it happens, her knowledge of underhanded corporate tactics in the courtroom proves incredibly useful in her very first case.

However, for this reviewer at least, it’s at this point the drama turns to melodrama. In the space of an episode, Sydney learns to care about the type of people she previously disdained, makes her peace with her past, and reconnects with her estranged father. After which, it’s all troubled farmers, cancer stories, and squabbling relatives who just need to learn to see eye to eye, as the firm protects the very obviously innocent from a series of very clearly defined bad guys, and the end result will always bring a tear of joy to the eye. Sydney’s transition is so smooth it makes us wonder what the show might have been if she had elected to stay on in the city and fight it out with Dad in court on a weekly basis.

McGee and Smits’ father daughter chemistry is thankfully spot on, as it’s Sydney’s complex relationship with her father, and all the onion layers just waiting to be peeled therein, that forms the core of the show. Smits should also be praised for his depiction of Elijah Strait –  a calm, measured, and thoughtful character, and a true rarity on TV this fall.

Overall, Bluff City Law is a folksy, feel-good, slice of warm apple pie that will no doubt taste delicious to those who like neat, predictable endings, and warm, wise characters who are inevitably prompted to always do the right thing. However those looking for something with a little more bite may have to look elsewhere for their drama this fall.

The cast also includes Scott Shepherd, Barry Sloane, Michael Luwoye, MaameYaa Boafo, Stony Blyden and Jayne Atkinson.

Bluff City Law airs Mondays from 10-11 p.m. ET on NBC. It premieres tonight, Monday, Sept. 16.

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