Bluff City Law Review – Family Drama Hopes To Inject Meaning Into Legal Suffering Drama

While we all want a good legal drama to sink our teeth into (there’s polling), recent tragedies among shtick efforts might lead us to believe we should be after something different.

Bluff City Law is the latest installment, and watching it made me look at Jimmy Smits a little too long, which made me all too aware of the fact that perhaps the shtick model just isn’t going to work. It’s harder to pitch an L.A. Law, because it’s really just a law firm and running through all the characters and inner turmoil takes a while. It’s easier to throw out – prodigal daughter returns to high profile father’s firm where he is dedicated to “fighting the good fight” after she spent years climbing the corporate law ladder by dismantling class-action suits. Of course, this one adds in a true rift between father and daughter, which makes it even more difficult for her to come back to the fold after her mother’s death.

The problem, especially in a case like this, is that a shtick is how you get people to watch a pilot and the thing you (usually) try to stop being about as quickly as possible. When Elijah Strait (Smits) and daughter, Sydney (Caitlin McGee), are trying to reconnect throughout the first two episodes, it feels stagy and produced to be forgotten. After all, how long can a show really be about a daughter being mad at her father while continuing to work at his law firm?

BLUFF CITY LAW -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford, Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait
Pictured: (l-r) Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford, Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

The further shtick of the show, that we are David vs. Goliath lawyers, is tough for the show to really hang its hat on as well because two episodes in we’ve run circles around two of the bigger legal battles in recent memory, which means season two will apparently find us in the most sought after law firm in the world. Beyond that, these fights play out as hopelessly gimmicky commercials.

Unfortunately, this is a show that would probably suck in a lot of viewers if it were just Strait & Strait. Fast-forward half a season, and let’s move on. When we’re just trying to work out impossible cases, and Smits has his “like gangsters” moments, there’s a lot of charm to their relationship. When their relationship is the actual focus, it’s a Top Trumps Who can act more like they’re possessed by Shakespeare game. Worse still, most of the supporting cast won’t get enough credit here, including a pair of younger attorneys and an investigator who could move on to a spin-off as soon as the pilot ends.

When you kick things off at a funeral, you’re painting in broad strokes, but when you get all the way to “back working in the firm” in the pilot, you’re running from your own story hoping you make it to episode eight, which is when the show you want to make (and should have just made) starts. Those looking for an especially deep dish of melodrama have come to the right place, especially if sticking it to corporations resonates, but this doesn’t seem to have the pull to keep most viewers waiting for it to hit its stride.

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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