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'Bluff City Law' review: Jimmy Smits' comfortable procedural

(l-r) Caitlin McGee as Sydney Strait, Jimmy Smits

(l-r) Caitlin McGee as Sydney Strait, Jimmy Smits as Elijah Strait, Michael Luwoye as Anthony Little in "Bluff City Law." Credit: NBC

SERIES "Bluff City Law"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) is an idealistic lawyer in Memphis, estranged from his equally idealistic daughter, Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee, "Grey's Anatomy"), who has gone over to the "dark side" (corporate law). She knows he was faithless to her mother, but after her mom's death, Elijah wants to patch things up. He asks her to join his law firm so that together they can save the world from corporate greed and duplicity. She's understandably reluctant, but dad is a good salesman with a persuasive pitch: "You've got to get back into the fight, Sydney. If not with me, then someone else, since you have noticed the world is running out of heroes." Who can resist that line? Not Sydney. She joins, the sparks fly, and Memphis becomes a better place. But can these two even get along?

MY SAY Memphis is sometimes called Bluff City because (anyone? anyone?) the city sits on a bluff above the Mississippi. But of course you didn't come to this review to get an easy "Jeopardy!" clue, or to learn whether "Bluff City Law" is an original new procedural or by-the-numbers hackwork that begins at "1" and can't quite figure out what comes after "3."

You came for Jimmy. Jimmy's been a steady presence on TV the past decade. There was "How to Get Away with Murder" (only die-hard fans watched), "24: Legacy" (no one watched) and "Sons of Anarchy" (probably too many watched.) Then there was "Outlaw" in 2010. This was his last leading role on a prime-time series, but he must have liked it because "Bluff City Law" is a rough facsimile: Idealistic lawyer takes on bad guys, mostly corporate malefactors, courtroom fireworks ensue, victory! (turn out the lights, go to bed). Jimmy still looks great in suits and hasn't aged but a minute. When Elijah overcomes the odds, wins his case, bonds a little more with feisty Sydney, and then right before "Bluff" goes to commercial, he nods that knowing nod, and smiles that knowing smile. All's right with the world. Jimmy's back and he means business. 

 Take that, bad guys.

 But there is, in fact, a certain artistry to hackwork, or at least an undeniable skill to it. "Bluff City Law" appears to have mastered the formula, if not exactly advanced it. Monday's pilot episode can at times be a grim frog-march through a swamp of procedural cliches and "beats," each tethered to a soundtrack that demands emotional engagement without actually earning it. You've seen this before, Jimmy's acted this before.

But next week's episode is an improvement, and also the point by which "Bluff City's" whole reason-for-being heaves into view. This is prime-time fast food, easy to watch and easy to consume. Let the fancy streaming services serve up the petit fois, or lamb salad with fregola (mmm, fregola.) "Bluff City Law" shovels the grits and Jimmy's your server. We could all do worse.

 BOTTOM LINE Formula procedural but at least a comfortable, easy-to-watch one, with a comfortable, easy-to-watch lead. 

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