×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • American Son review

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases 'American Son' Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix released the trailer for “American Son” starring Kerry Washington and first looks at Dolly Parton’s new anthology series, “Heartstrings.” FIRST LOOKS Netflix has released the trailer for “American Son,” which premieres Nov. 1 on the streaming service. Directed by Tony award-winner Kenny Leon, the film is based on the [...]

  • BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to

    BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to Be Produced by Management Firm's New Shingle, ModestTV

    The BBC has confirmed its Little Mix talent show, which the pop band’s management firm, Modest!, will produce through a new banner, ModestTV. “Little Mix The Search” will be exec produced by Andrea Hamilton, who has partnered with the management outfit to launch the new operation. Her entertainment show credits include “The Voice” and “Strictly [...]

  • Monica Beletsky Apple TV Plus

    Apple Sets Overall Deal With Monica Beletsky

    Monica Beletsky is the latest of a small group of content creators to set an overall deal with Apple and their streaming platform, Apple TV Plus. Under the multi-year deal, Beletsky will develop and produce television series exclusively for the streamer. This is the first overall of Beletsky’s career. Her previous credits include “Fargo,” “Friday [...]

  • Saladin Patterson

    Saladin Patterson Inks Overall Deal at 20th Century Fox Television

    Saladin Patterson has signed an overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. Under the multi-year deal, Patterson will develop, write and produce comedy series for network, cable and streaming platforms. He was previously under a development deal at the studio earlier in his career. Patterson is currently an executive producer on the upcoming FX series [...]

  • Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer

    'Room' Director Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer Ed Guiney Present Their BBC-Hulu Series 'Normal People' (EXCLUSIVE)

    At TV market Mipcom in Cannes this week the team behind BBC-Hulu series “Normal People” – led by Lenny Abrahamson, the Oscar nominated director of “Room” – presented the first footage from the show, and explained how they approached the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel. Variety had exclusive access to the presentation. Ed Guiney, one [...]

  • El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

    ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ Scores 6.5 Million Viewers Across First Weekend

    “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which dropped on Netflix Oct. 11, drew around 6.5 million total viewers in its first three days on the streaming platform, according to Nielsen. The movie also reached just under 8.2 million unique TV viewers. “El Camino” unsurprisingly drew its biggest audience of the three days on day 1, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content