‘Bluff City Law’ 1×01 Review: The Moral Arc of the Universe

It’s hard to put into words what makes a good Pilot, or why Bluff City Law manages it, because the truth is that there aren’t any fixed rules. You don’t have to absolutely do this, or absolutely do this other thing to make people care. You just have to, somehow, someway, manage to get people to do just that, care. Invest.

Rarely does investment come out of plot points. Sure, sometimes I might find a storyline interesting, I want to know what happens, or there’s a mystery that needs to be solved and I’m interested in that. But real, long-lasting investment comes out of falling in love with a character, with a dynamic.

Write believable characters, and the rest will follow.

Don’t they say that? Well, they absolutely should, and Bluff City Law is proof positive of that, just as it’s proof positive that there are more lawyer-y stories to be told than those of the Suits type (and hey, don’t get me wrong, I love that show).

The moral arc of the universe is long, MLK said, but it bends towards justice. This is just a TV show, but in watching these characters fight, in watching them go on, day by day, it feels, impossibly, like that is more true than ever, and like even if just by letting them inspire us, we can also help a little to make that happen.

So let us discuss the characters as we get ready to go on this journey that is Bluff City Law:


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Caitlin McGee as Sydney Strait — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

Sydney is many things, and I’m still not sure what fifty percent of them are, which is why she’s one of my favorite female leads in recent years. It’s easy to make female characters, especially ones in such high-pressure jobs, seem one-dimensional. Either they’re too brash or they’re unfeeling, and even when they’re very good at their job, sometimes they come off as very one note, because ahem, mostly male writers, don’t know how to write them in a balanced way.

Not Sydney, no. She’s driven, and cocky, and she’s good at what she does, but she’s also emotional, and questioning, helpful and human. I just met her, and it feels like I’ve got a long way before I can even get close to figuring who she is, but that’s good. She’s the hook, and I’m absolutely here to learn more about not just who she is, but how her relationships with her dad, her new-found brother, her best friend, her old classmate and whatever Jake ends up being, all develop.

I’m not so much here for the ex-husband, but I guess he’s also part of the deal.


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

I made the joke before I watched the Pilot that Jimmy Smits was everyone’s latinx dad, thinking he was just going to be, well, Mr. Santiago again, and yet, in many ways, Elijah Strait might just be the most complicated character Smits has gotten to play. Because the Pilot starts off with one question: Is Elijah Strait, renowned civil rights lawyer, actually a good man?

He certainly hasn’t been a great father, and he wasn’t a great husband either, but he’s been an outstanding lawyer who’s helped a great deal of people. So, does one thing make up for the other? Can Elijah Strait be in his personal life what he always was in his professional life? Has he really turned over a new leaf?

Not stereotypical questions, no. That makes getting the answers even more interesting.


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Barry Sloane as Jake Reilly — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

Oh, Jake. You’re shaping up to be exactly my kind of guy, the wannabe tough guy who is really, not so deep down, a total softie. We’ve also heard little tidbits about everyone else’s family, except Jake’s, which means there’s some deep, dark past and a reason for the way he tries to put barriers between himself and others, and I cannot wait to find out what that is.

But also, I cannot wait to see the half-hearted tough guy act fall. He’s clearly very close with absolutely everyone in the office, and I think he’s the kind of guy who can get along with Sydney’s prickly side, so I cannot wait to see that develop.

What? I need an OTP to root for!


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Michael Luwoye as Anthony Little — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

Everything about Anthony says: I’m not who you expect me to be. From his suits, to his relationship with Elijah, and with Sydney, to the four daughters, there’s clearly a lot about more about Anthony than meets the eye. I’m also super interested in how he ended up in Elijah Strait’s practice, as well as if how close he and Sydney were during law school.

But more importantly, I want a chance for him to be a fully realized character, with friends (Jake/Anthony bromance is needed, please), with his own problems that don’t all revolve around cases or the Strait’s family issues. I want the show to go into what it means to be who he is, and do the work he does, because that’s a perspective we never, ever get.


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Stony Blyden as Emerson — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

Did you see that bombshell at the end coming? I gotta admit I didn’t, I was too enamored, too invested. And that’s a good thing, because, when the episode faded to black, all I could think was how, from now on, I’m going to be even more invested in something that wasn’t even on my radar: Emerson’s relationship with Sydney. Sure, I care about his relationship with Elijah, but it seems like that’s already been sorta dealt with. But Sydney?

Yeah, you’ve got me. I love complicated family stories, and this one is shaping up to be as complicated as they come. And hopefully, as that develops, we’ll get to explore more about Emerson – and maybe even flashback to how Elijah found out he had a son, and how Emerson found out who his dad was. Bring all the messy family drama!


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford, Michael Luwoye as Anthony Little — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

I love Della already, and I think that was the point. Everyone loves a Della. But there are hints that Della isn’t just the nice mom-type who gives people cookies and has sage advice for all who enter her door. Especially because consider all those generations in the South and the words “wife,” and you already have a juicy backstory I would love to see the show explore.

And I’m also really, really interested in her relationship with the Straits. How did she end up here, how close was she to the family and also…how much did she know? Because she’s the good guy for everyone right now, but that last question might determine for how long she continues to be.


BLUFF CITY LAW — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: MaameYaa Boafo as Briana Johnson — (Photo by: Jake Giles Netter/NBC)

Ah, Briana, I didn’t know how much I needed a character like you till you appeared. There’s something absolutely amazing about seeing a female friendship be the relationship a show is taking for granted, and it’s also absolutely amazing to see two women coming at their friendship from a place of being equals, each of them the best at what they do, but equals.

My one hope going forward is that Briana’s story doesn’t become Sydney’s story, which tends to happen a lot. I know this is a large cast to juggle, but I believe this show can give everyone a chance to shine, while still keeping the cases, the idea of justice, centered. Brianna deserves to be more than the friend, or the one who appears for one or two seconds to fix a case. She deserves to be her own person.

Here’s to getting that, and so much more. For her, and everyone else.

Things I think I think:

  • Effective opening scene. Real effective.
  • Straight hair, red lips is like the armor Sydney wears. And she’s very good at what she does.
  • The way her composure breaks when she hears the news about her mom is perfect acting.
  • BRIANA + SYDNEY are already friendship goals.
  • There seems to be a LOT to unpack about the kind of man Elijah Strait is, or at least, the kind of man he was trying to be.
  • The “dark side” indeed. You know, the people the lawyers at Suits would be representing.
  • “I don’t like you, Dad.”
  • Wow, Sydney. Tell us what you really think.
  • His reasons for wanting her back make sense. Loss does make you reevaluate life.
  • Emerson’s FACE when he sees Sydney.
  • I like the friendship between Anthony and Sydney. Very rarely do we get to see men and women be friends. And since Anthony is married and has 4 kids, I will take friendship, okay?
  • No pressure, just a For Jake note from the woman who just died. FIX IT, JAKE, she’s saying from the great beyond.
  • I like Jake. He’s brash, but he’s not unfeeling.
  • At least Anthony got a cookie.
  • Watching good lawyers at work is a rare and underrated pleasure.
  • The Jake/Syndey vibe. Do you feel it?
  • I FEEL IT.
  • I already don’t like Robbie. Sorry, not sorry.
  • “Did you break his heart?”/”You broke his heart.”
  • The anger IS gonna be an issue.
  • I like that they’re a team, all of them. Everyone was there, at the meeting; everyone is there for each other. Sydney sure looks like she could use that.
  • Della calling Elijah out is a god send. In fact, every second of her is amazing.
  • Emerson and Briana being the ones to crack the case is probably going to be a theme, right?
  • Yeah, George and Jake made me tear up.
  • Interrogations are the best part of these shows, I swear to God. And yes, in real life, they’re often as fun.
  • Don’t get used to that holding cell, Sydney.
  • The best closing argument is about making the jury feel, not about making them think of the proof. You have the whole case to worry about proving stuff. In the closing argument you have to make them want you to win.
  • I also cried when Edgard said, “You’re gonna be okay”
  • DAD
  • HA
  • Damn it, where’s episode two?

Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Bluff City Law? Share with us in the comments below!

Bluff City Law airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

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