Bluff City Law Episode 1
When a show opens with a main character engaging in a primal scream, you know this is going to be a ride. That is exactly how we meet Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee) in the opening scene of Bluff City Law. Just as suddenly as her character, we are whisked into the recent past when her estranged father, Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) informs her of her mother’s passing. The tension between the duo is palpable and not alleviated at the wake. As they independently try to process their grief, Elijah turns to their one commonality, the law, to ask Sydney to return to his firm.
Strait & Associates
The offer must work, but we next see the return of the prodigal daughter to the firm and we meet the rest of the firm. Anthony Little (Michael Luwoye) and Sydney went to law school together and worked together during her first stint at the firm. As the pilot progresses, we see that he and Sydney, though trained at the same school, have different approaches to the law. Jake Reilly (Barry Sloane) is the leading rainmaker for the firm who is already fielding offers from other firms. Elijah asks that he stay for 30 days before deciding whether to leave the firm.
We briefly meet our young, slightly awkward, paralegal Emerson (Stony Blyden) who proves to be good at his job. We already met Briana Logan (MaameYaa Boafo) as Sydney’s best friend in the opening scenes. She serves the firm as a skillful investigator. Finally, we have Della Bedford (Jayne Atkinson), a self-described sixth generation Southern woman. She and her wife love spoiling Anthony’s children (“it’s in her DNA”) in her off-time and in addition to her legal duties, serves as the counselor to the counselors.
The hook that Elijah used to bring Sydney back into the fold was a class-action case against fictional company, Amerifarm regarding the carcinogenic nature of their pesticide, Greencoat. Sitting in a client meeting with the Soriano family, Anthony lays out the legal strategy, a product of two years of work. The problem? Mr. Soriano’s prognosis has worsened, and he may not survive to the trial date. The compassion is evident in Elijah’s face as he expressed condolences, but it is Sydney who blows the whole thing up. She quickly offers up a new strategy breaking from the class-action suit and creating an individual case. It’s a gamble, the class offer more power for settlements and safety in numbers, but a single lawsuit allows an expedited trial.
Three weeks later we find them in court. Sydney with inside knowledge of the strategies of big corporations takes the lead chair. There are no passive lawyers here, both Elijah and Anthony show skilled questioning moments in the courtroom. As the case moves forward, each side gets in some body shots and it seems unclear how this will go. There is a warning of what is to come for Elijah and Sydney hidden in the guise of a settlement offer. They decline the offer, but Elijah knows something is coming.
The time comes for expert testimony, this is where Sydney will close the case. She calls her first expert, opposing counsel objects, sustained. She is shut down by the judge on two more expert witnesses. Frustrated and knowing that the jury now will not hear incriminating evidence, Sydney lands herself in jail for Contempt. The firm discusses the poor showing in court when Sydney returns from her afternoon in jail. The frustration, the pressure of holding such an important outcome weighs on Sydney in a way her corporate job never did. In a moment of honesty between our fierce father/daughter duo, we see the corporate lawyer side of Sydney dissolve right before our eyes. She becomes a crusader, not just out for the win, but in it to make a difference. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Elijah is well regarded as a hero in Memphis and he thinks we are running out of them.
Still, they are nowhere on the case and need a miracle. Cue the paralegal… Meanwhile, Edgar Soriano takes the stand to talk about his exposure to Greencoat. Elijah is a brilliant lawyer and between his questioning and Mr. Soriano’s testimony, the needle for the jury seems to move. There is no proof of causation and the corporate lawyer shreds Mr. Soriano’s testimony.
In reviewing information for the case, Emerson stumbles on a clue. Language that suggests a person with knowledge who has been silenced. Briana works her magic to locate the scientist and Sydney and Elijah sit down with her to convince her to testify. She declines outright fearing repercussions from Amerifarm. Elijah has a powerful moment with her discussing the moral arc of the universe and second chances. I’m not sure anyone stands a chance against Elijah Strait’s persuasive arguments.
Dr. Diemer takes the stand but is immediately objected to by the plaintiff. In chambers they discuss whether Dr. Diemer should be allowed to testify. The judge will not allow her to testify to any testing she may or may not have done. Just as it seems hopeless, Sydney Strait sees the grey among the black and white and finds her strategy. Rather than asking direct questions, she asks if there is anything Dr. Diemer would like to say to Edgar Soriano. She apologizes to him and to other families, that Amerifarm knew it was dangerous. Mayhem erupts in the courtroom and both Straits find themselves in jail for contempt.
In the closing argument, Sydney captures what appears to be the theme of the show. Let’s make the world that we want to live in. Create and shape what the standard are and should be. Following the winning verdict, Elijah slides her a sticky note with a simple but huge message: Change the World. It turns out that primal scream was one of victory.