Bluff City Law marks veteran actor Jimmy Smits’ first return to TV as a series regular in over a decade, and joining him on the Memphis-based series, which filmed on location in Tennessee, is quite an impressive ensemble cast.
On NBC’s new legal drama, Smits plays civil rights lawyer Elijah Strait, and actress Caitlin McGee, portrays Sydney Strait, his daughter, who’s an established corporate-law attorney, who rejoins Elijah’s father’s firm after her mother dies. Their collective goal is to “change the world,” and help the little guys have their day in court. But when it comes to their personal relationship, Sydney must overlook years of mistrust and misunderstanding to work alongside her father.
Smits told Heavy during a set visit, “People who are perceived to be at the top their game, it comes at a price. and those are the kinds of things we’ve plotted and talked about, and they will bubble up. Not everyone is a role model.”
Viewers will quickly learn in the pilot episode, which premieres on Monday, September 23, the underbelly of why there’s so much pent up anger between Sydney and her father, and a last-minute surprise twist will toss whatever happy place they reached by the end of the hour into the abyss.
Smits said of working with McGee, “She’s emotionally centered. She’s able to access her emotional core.” And working in the fast pace of television, “You really want a scene partner, in this kind of terrain, that you can trust. And she’s game.”
Of their characters’ tumultuous relationship the former L.A. Law star said, “It’s tough love and it was really hard on her. She decided to go polar opposite to what the family had built and how the family brought her up. Behaviors that you [see], they are touchstones that reflect back.”
Caitlin McGee Proudly ‘Puts the B in LGBTQ’
McGee is tackling her first series regular role on Bluff City Law, and is on the show’s Memphis set 14 hours a day, while her boyfriend, Patrick Woodall, and their dog stayed back in New York City. However, McGee was more than happy to relocated to for the show, is incredibly passionate about playing Sydney and everything she represents.
“The first time I met with my publicist, she was like ‘What are the causes that you care strongly about?’ and I was like ‘Okay! Get a pen! Let’s go!'” McGee said. “It’s hard to be a human being in this world. Not just as an actress, but as a white woman, I have to use my privilege to speak out for those people that do not have the same privilege as I do. So, the fact that Sydney does the same thing as me, this was the easiest job to audition for in the whole world.”
When it comes to the most compelling storylines of the show, and those that McGee feels deeply toward she said, “Personally, my cousin is trans, and she hasn’t had the easiest time of it. I’m the B in the LBGQT community, and it’s very important for me to represent every single walk of life, and specifically, black lives matter, there are a lot of things I need to see on narrative programming. So not just holding big companies accountable, which is important, not just a headline we click on, and forget about.”
The Ensemble Cast is Stellar
Of the series’ ensemble cast Smits said, “The cast all has theatre background, so that to me was a blessing. Just language of dealing with each other and how we do scenes — it’s about the work. I’ve always felt I’ve worked better in ensemble mode, so I’m thankful these guys are so versatile and so diverse. I can’t wait for the audience to see bow the other roles develop.”
Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford Is a Highlight
As is the case with actress Jayne Atkinson (24, Madame Secretary, House of Cards), the more she’s featured on screen, the better the show is as a whole. Atkinson loved her character Della because she’s “hot, sexy, at the age she is, and she has a wife, which is interesting to me as an actress. I’m not gay, but I love that we’re tackling that issue and that we’re doing it in Memphis.”
The show will tackle how difficult it was for her character to come out and Atkinson was attracted to how the series includes all of Della’s layers. While she’s gay, she’s still a church-going Southern woman. “She’s tactful, she looks someone in the eye that she loves and cares about, and it’s deliberate. In the South, when you are really listening to someone, you reach out and say, ‘What’s goin on?’ And I’m a mother of a 20-year-old son, and that’s what I do.”
Michael Luwoye, who’s fresh off his run playing Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway show Hamilton, says it will take some time for viewers to learn about his character Anthony Little. “In episode five you meet my wife, Maya. I have three kids,” but he’s not sure when you’ll meet them. And for those wondering if Luwoye will sing, viewers will only have to wait until episode 4 to hear his powerful pipes.
Barry Sloane as Jake Reilly Makes Things Interesting
While the script can be overly preachy, and the show as a whole would benefit by inherently trusting that the audience understands that even the best intentioned people can be deeply flawed, the ensemble cast on Bluff City Law gives impressive performances. Barry Sloane (L.A.’s Finest, Longmire) in particular, as the off-beat Jake Reilly, whose lack of social skills in tandem with being abnormally keen investigator, he adds a level of intrigue to the sometimes expected plot lines.
Josh Kelly (UnReal) plays Robbie, a chief police officer and Sydney’s ex-husband, and adds wonderful humor to series. On the surface, he tries to act cool when around his powerful ex-wife, but it’s clear not only to viewers, but to everyone but Sydney that he’s still very much in love with her.