Bluff City Law

Pilot Script Review of Bluff City Law

NBC gave this legal drama a big vote of confidence with an early series order.
  • Caitlin McGee, Jimmy Smits and Michael Luwoye in the pilot episode of the NBC legal drama Bluff City Law
    Editor's Note: Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they're pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what's called "Script Coverage," an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now, thanks to Primetimer's own resident script reader, you too can preview some of the season's most buzzed about pilots. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

    As I discussed in my recent pilot preview of The Baker and the Beauty, writer Dean Georgaris is one of the few lucky (and talented) guys able to score not one but two pilot orders the same year. In fact, this is the second time in three years that he's done so. This development season, he has the aforementioned Baker at ABC, as well as Bluff City Law at NBC, which he co-crote with Michael Aguilar (Kidding, I'm Dying Up Here). In 2017, he had The Brave at NBC, which went to series, and Las Reinas at ABC, which was passed over. He seems to jump from one genre to another with ease. The Brave was an action thriller, Las Reinas a cop drama with a hint of family soap, Clementine a fantasy drama with a hint of thriller, while his movie The Meg was a horror thriller. Bluff City Law is another wildly different beast: a family-fueled legal drama.  In what would seem to be a strong vote of confidence, NBC ordered the show to series on 5/6/19, the network's first drama pick-up this year.

    WRITTEN BY: Dean Georgaris & Michael Aguilar
    DRAFT DATE: Studio Draft 8 / Network Draft 4 1/318
    PAGE COUNT: 63 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Born into a famous Memphis family known for taking on injustice, brilliant lawyer SYDNEY STRAIT (30s) used to work at her father Elijah’s celebrated law firm until their tumultuous relationship got in the way. After barely speaking to her father for years, Sydney is suddenly thrust back into the family fold when her philanthropist mother passes away unexpectedly. In the wake of her death, hoping to reconnect with the daughter he loves, ELIJAH STRAIT (61) asks Sydney to rejoin his firm. She agrees because despite her lingering resentment and distrust, she knows that working alongside her father is her best hope at changing the world … if they can ever get along. Her first client is EDGAR SORIANO, who’s dying of Lymphoma apparentlycaused by a new product from the tobacco company Morningstar. This first case has Sydney rushing against the clock, while also managing the stress of establishing  work-relationship boundaries with Elijah, dealing with her grief and  her feelings for her ex-husband, a cop. Sydney is a passionate lawyer but her headstrong and arrogant attitude toward her adversaries and friends both ins and out of the courtroom hold her back from being the greatest version of herself. Even with the many twists and turns of the court case, the pilot's biggest surprise comes after the case has closed when a potential new family member is accidently revealed to Sydney...

    COMMENTS: I have to confess that I took little notice of Bluff City Law until NBC went ahead and ordered it to series ahead of all of its other contenders. The network had two legal projects competing this year, with Prism being the other, riskier option (read my pilot script review here). As I write this, that project isn't dead yet, but of the two, Bluff City Law is definitely the right way to go. As NBC's description promised, it really is a character-driven drama and it really does have a distinctive feel. That's partly due to the scenery. Unlike most every other legal drama, it's not set in L.A., New York or Chicago, but instead Memphis, Tennessee. This is a choice that makes a lot of sense: Memphis played a prominent role in the U.S. civil right movement, it was the site of Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968 and the lawyers depicted in the series work at an elite law firm that specializes in the most controversial landmark civil rights cases. Plus, they actually shot the pilot in Memphis, which is rare. The show is rooted in an environment that makes it relevant and I can see now why the network fast-tracked it to series.

    Another quality that makes Bluff City Law stand out are its strong family ties. First and foremost this is a TV show about a father and his daughter. They also happen to be lawyers, but it's their complex relationship that makes the show distinctive and relatable. Complicating matters even more is their shared grief..We don't meet Catherine, the deceased mother -- we only hear about her -- but to the writers' great credit, she's still a fully-fleshed (and very likable) character. Part of me is disappointed that she's gone and won't be a regular character on the show, but it there's a good chance we'll meet her in later episodes through flashbacks. (We do see photographs of her in the pilot.) This sense of family in Bluff City Law extends to the people who work in this small law firm, as they've known each other for a long time and form their own community. 

    Della Bedford is a warm-hearted but incredibly shrewd and wise lawyer in her sixties, who was the first out lesbian to become a prominent member of Memphis society. She was Catherine's best friend and may well  become the most important woman figure in Sydney's life. Then we have Briana Logan, a private investigator who works for Elijah’s firm and who has been Sydney's best friend since childhood. Those are basically the only two things we know about her from the pilot, but it's enough to see some potential in the character. Emerson is a young, tech-savvy assistant and paralegal at the law firm, who's not exactly warm to Sydney when she arrives. It's good to see a character who's under 25, as legal dramas tend to skew old, and they'll need all teh help they can get in the demo. Other men in the firm include Jake Reilly, a smart and confident lawyer who's the only non-Southerner at the firm (and he loves to remind them of it); and Anthony Little, a fantastic lawyer who is also the warm-hearted father of three daughters, who never misses an opportunity to refer to his beloved wife. Each of these characters make a good case for themselves in the pilot. And the two "cases of the week" are interesting too --  one is very serious, while the other stars off a little lighter and gets more serious latter on. One ends with the pilot, while the other will apparently be serialized.  

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Bluff City Law breaks the mold of the typical legal drama, where cases are thrown at brilliant lawyers who do their best to represent their clients, both good and bad. Instead, Bluff City Law depicts a group of brilliant human beings who happen to be lawyers,  taking cases they care for. It's a small difference on paper, but it should make big difference in the way viewers connect to it on screen. This efficient family-driven show is right up NBC's alley, fitting well with existing shows such as New Amsterdam, Chicago Fire and This Is Us

    OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
    [   ] PASS
    [   ] CONSIDER
    [X] RECOMMEND

    BEST FIT: Mondays at 10pm seems like the only way to go unless they really blow up their current schedule.

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