NBC's Bluff City Law Premiere: Grade It

NBC laid down the Bluff City Law this Monday night, with a new drama starring onetime L.A. Lawyer Jimmy Smits. What’s your early verdict?

Bluff City Law stars Caitlin McGee (Grey’s Anatomy?) as Sydney Strait, a brilliant lawyer who used to work at her father Elijah’s celebrated law firm but, as seen in the opening minutes, currently beats up on the little guy as a corporate attorney. Upon the death of her mother, Sydney is forced into a tense reunion with her dad, for whom she used to work (and professionally clash with), and whom she also simply doesn’t like (because of how he cheated on her mom).

In the wake of their mutual loss, Elijah (played by Smits) — hoping to reconnect with his daughter — asks Sydney to rejoin his firm. She eventually agrees (and apparently amid zero counteroffers from her current employer!) and instantly shakes things up by revamping the strategy for what was going to be a class action lawsuit against AmeriFarm, the manufacturer of a cancerous pesticide. Working alongside both her father and former law school classmate Anthony (The Gifted‘s Michael Luwoye), and with the occasional assist from socially awkward paralegal Emerson (Stony Blyden), Sydney strikes some meaningful blows during the early trial, to the point that the chemical manufacturer offers a settlement of $200,000 for the terminal client and his family. Sydney scoffs, but Elijah hears out AmeriFarm’s counsel, who goes on to warn that the courtroom tide is about to turn. And indeed it does, as he, with the judge’s support, objects to Sydney’s series of expert witnesses.

Luckily, Emerson tracks down a scientist who used to work for AmeriFarm but “disappeared” after her damning findings on the pesticide were put in a drawer. The judge won’t allow the scientist to testify to any reports that seemingly never existed, so instead Sydney simply asks if the witness has anything to say to the plaintiff. The scientist in turn apologizes to the terminal man, and goes on a bit about how the product should have been stopped before the judge orders the jury to ignore the inflammatory testimony. They of course don’t/can’t and instead find in favor of the plaintiff — to the tune of $45 million in punitive damages, setting a nice blueprint for the class action suit Anthony had spent years building before Sydney came along.

Elsewhere in the pilot, we also met Jake Reilly (Revenge‘s Barry Sloane), a Strait & Associates legal eagle who was tasked, by Elijah’s late wife, with getting an imprisoned man’s murder rap overturned. When the prisoner at first rebuffs the notion, Jake does some thinking and — following advice from the firm’s Della (House of Cards‘ Jayne Atkinson) — realizes what legacy the man is trying to protect. Meeting again with the prospective client, Jake acknowledges that prisoner’s wife and son have, yes, moved on to rich, new lives without him — but now so should he start a new life. And the man agrees to fight.

Closing out the premiere, Sydney is having a less-icy moment with Elijah, rattling off her list of “demands” to stay with the form and thus help “change the world,” when Emerson barges in to ask “Dad” a question. “What did he just call you??” asks Sydney, as Elijah’s face makes clear he has some family news to share….

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