×

TV Review: ‘Bluff City Law’

As a legal procedural emanating from outside the imaginings of Dick Wolf, “Bluff City Law” at least represents something novel for NBC. But its understanding of the workings of the legal profession is frustratingly limited in a familiar way — not merely because it falls so nearly into timeworn cliché but also because it seems to trust its audience so little. In its first two episodes, what works tepidly well here is a family dynamic that at least feels unusual; what does not are heard-them-all-before clichés about the power and responsibilities of attorneys. In its relentless speechifying and overly ingratiating need to constantly show off and burnish its moral compass, “Bluff City Law” resembles no current show more than “This Is Us” — and is proof that what has made that show a hit cannot easily be replicated in the courtroom.

Here, Caitlin McGee plays a young lawyer recruited by her father (Jimmy Smits) to join his firm after the death of her mother; the trauma has reorganized her life such that a radical reshuffling of the deck seems like a good idea. What seems most appealing to her is not the proximity to Dad — a figure from whom she’s been estranged and one whose commitment to legal principle seems greater than to family — but the idea of making change. McGee’s Sydney Strait goes in a short time from working on behalf of big corporations to attempting to bring them to heel. 

An able cast — including, perhaps most notably aside from the leads, Jayne Atkinson in a supporting role that allows her to bring her typical mixture of sharpness and warmth — only makes clearer how much the script hangs them out to dry. In describing a prisoner who seems resistant to the appeals process despite evident flaws in the case that convicted him, Atkinson urges a junior lawyer to “Find out why he’s chosen ‘guilty’ as his legacy.” McGee exhorts jurors that, “In here, we get to say what kind of world we want this to be” shortly before Smits flashes her a post-it reading “Change the world.” And not even Smits, a beloved TV star, has quite enough faith from his audience to convincingly sell the following line: “This moment, it’s the moral arc of the universe coming around, to give you the chance to hold them accountable for forcing you to live all of these years with that guilt… and regret.” The final two words, delivered after a long pause, feel almost like a joke on the part of the writers, proof that they could extend an already overwritten and incoherent sentence yet one beat further. 

Lawyers who defend the wronged against the wrongdoers have a compelling and telegenic role to play. So why does this series keep, in its first two hours, trying to over-prove the case? Audience members are intelligent enough to understand that juries represent an opportunity for normal people to exert change; they’re not addled enough by modern TV drama clichés to confound someone’s legal status with their “legacy,” whatever that means. “Bluff City Law” is all burnish and big, brassy words. What it badly needs is a bit more grit and a heavy dose of confidence. Only a show this uncertain of its audience’s affections would be this needily verbose.

“Bluff City Law.” NBC. Sept. 23. Two episodes screened for review. 

Cast: Jimmy Smits, Caitlin McGee, Scott Shepherd, Barry Sloane, Michael Luwoye, MaameYaa Boafo, Stony Blyden, Jayne Atkinson.

Executive Producers: Dean Georgaris, Michael Aguilar, David Janollari.

TV Review: 'Bluff City Law'

More TV

  • Leonine Takes International Rights to Premium

    Leonine Takes International Rights to Premium Series 'Herzogpark'

    German media group Leonine has taken international distribution rights to the six-part premium series “Herzogpark,” following a deal with its producers Letterbox Filmproduktion (“Bad Banks”). The rights for German-speaking territories are held by Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland. The dramedy centers on four women from Munich’s upscale Herzogpark district, for whom keeping secrets has become a life’s [...]

  • Luna Nera Netflix Italy

    Italy's Women Filmmakers Set to Make Waves

    The Berlinale in recent years has been a prime launching pad for Italian films directed by women, which though fewer in number to their male counterparts, make up a considerable portion of the country’s representation on the festival circuit — Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”) at Cannes, Susanna Nicchiarelli (“Nico”) at Venice, and Berlin regular [...]

  • Love Me Scandinavian Cinema

    Scandinavia Ups Its Game With So Many Markets for Its Fare

    When the Nordic entertainment group, one of Scandinavia’s largest media groups, announced last month during the Goteborg Film Festival that it was pulling out of non-scripted content to focus on scripted drama, and film production and distribution, it underscored two market trends in the Nordics: Subscription-based services, whether local or global, are driving the region’s [...]

  • Louis Hofmann in Prélude

    Berlin: Louis Hofmann Cast in Damian John Harper's 'Fresh' (EXCLUSIVE)

    German star Louis Hofmann is set to topline Damian John Harper’s upcoming drama “Fresh,” a German-language adaptation of Scottish writer Mark McNay’s novel of the same name. Hofmann plays a young man who must emancipate himself from his tyrannical older brother. Unlike the book, which is set in the outskirts of Glasgow, the film’s story [...]

  • Steve Stark

    Steve Stark Named President of Newly Formed MGM/UA Television

    The newly formed MGM/UA Television label has found a president in Steve Stark, who previously served as MGM’s president of scripted television production and development. MGM Worldwide Television Group chairman Mark Burnett made the announcement late Friday, adding that Stark has extended his contract with the studio as part of his new role. “We are [...]

  • Bad Education

    TV News Roundup: HBO Sets Premiere Date for Hugh Jackman's 'Bad Education' (Watch)

    In today’s TV News roundup, HBO Films set the premiere date for “Bad Education” starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney and “Volcano Live! with Nik Wallenda” tapes Chris Harrison and Sage Steele as hosts. CASTING “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison will host “Volcano Live! with Nik Wallenda” alongside co-host Sage Steele of ESPN, ABC announced. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content