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NBC's 'Bluff City Law' Brings Jimmy Smits Back to the Courtroom
September 23, 2019  | By David Hinckley

At a moment when idealists don’t seem to have the upper hand in real-life America, NBC is bringing Jimmy Smits (top) back to fight the noble fight. 

Smits will be playing controversial civil rights lawyer Elijah Strait in Bluff City Law,whose 16-episode first season premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET. 

While Smits has become one of the icons of contemporary television, he shares the spotlight here with relative newcomer Caitlin McGee (top), who plays Elijah’s equally impassioned and driven lawyer daughter Sydney. 

Set in Memphis, and seemingly primed to use both the city’s civil rights and musical history as part of its backdrop, Bluff City Law doesn’t portray the Straits as perfect people.

The father-daughter relationship, for starters, is riddled with tension, some of it – speaking of imperfect — rooted in Elijah’s extensive record of stepping out on Sydney’s late mother. 

As we join the story, Elijah has just talked Sydney into rejoining his firm. Apparently, she worked there earlier and three years ago walked out, a separation that was not entirely amicable. 

She went to a large firm where her legal brilliance made her a wealthy star. Now her strong sense of social justice has brought her back, and we watch her take on what will very likely be weekly cases in which she tries to even the long odds that always face the downtrodden and the underdog. 

In Monday’s opening episode, a groundskeeper has contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma after years of exposure to a widely used weedkiller. It’s not called Roundup, but if viewers happen to make a connection, well, that’s their choice. 

Other lawyers at the firm include Jake Reilly (Barry Sloane), who is also brilliant. The jury is out on whether he’s a potential romantic interest for Sydney or a potential professional rival. Or both. 

Michael Luwoye (top) plays Anthony Little, another smart lawyer in the firm, and Icelandic rapper Stony Blyden – you don’t want to have to pronounce his full name – plays Emerson, a sort of researcher and all-around young whiz kid. 

Smits slides easily back into the lawyer role he played years ago on L.A. Law, after in-between years as a cop, a rich guy, and a marginally legitimate businessman on Sons of Anarchy

McGee plays Sydney with energy so restless she almost seems to burst out of her skin. Elijah keeps telling her to relax. He also urges her never to stop being passionate. The result borders on schizophrenia, which presumably will carry over into whatever inevitable personal relationship the show puts her into.

She’s already divorced, no surprise. 

The father/daughter dynamic clearly forms the foundation for Bluff City Law, meaning the show will rise or fall on the extent to which viewers find it enticing. 

On the legal side, it’s a procedural, closer to the Law & Order model than to the extended crime/legal miniseries that have become popular in recent years. 

It may help that there’s a whiff of Erin Brockovich in the premise. But Bluff City Law isn’t Rocky Goes To Court. The ongoing case here revolves more around the burden of living with flawed brilliance, and the reality of the world you’re aiming to save. 

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