Many of us have heard by now that “Bluff City Law” is filming in Memphis; actually IN Memphis. Not trying to fool us with narrow shots of Atlanta streets or, worse, New Orleans. This is exciting!
The New Tri-State Defender was invited to participate in a press junket Tuesday at Itta Bena restaurant on Beale Street. I was more than thrilled to be part of a small cohort that gathered to speak with the cast and one of the producers, David Janollari.
“Bluff City Law” centers around the ofttimes fraught, father-daughter relationship between main characters Elijah and Sidney Strait. Elijah (Jimmy Smits) is a famed civil rights attorney and pillar of the community whose personal life isn’t so neat and tidy. Sidney (Caitlin McGee) is his daughter, who reluctantly leaves corporate law to rejoin him at the family law practice. She’s the hotheaded new jack to his more tempered, old-school personality.
This theoretically makes for great yin-yang balance. But for good TV, we need some conflict. And in real life that personality mix can slice both ways!
The show brings together some major talent – some well-known, some little known, some you will soon know, some you know if you know.
From Michael Luwoye (two-year “Hamilton” run as both Hamilton and Burr, “The Gifted” and “She’s Gotta Have It” season 2) and star-in-the-making Stony Blyden (Nickelodeon alum, “The Edge of Seventeen,” and “Dude”) to Jimmy Smits (“NYPD Blue,” “West Wing,” “Sons of Anarchy” and a stellar guest star spot on “How To Get Away With Murder”) and Jayne Atkinson (“House of Cards,” “Madame Secretary” and “Criminal Minds”), they have stacked the deck with acting chops and star power.
As the main cast members passed through our cohort, I noticed a common thread – the mention of activism, advocacy, justice/social justice or political awareness in general.
Josh Kelly (“Robbie”) served in the military and told us how he loves to see justice prevail. “This show is all about standing up for the little guy,” he said.
The unapologetically political McGee was a kindergarten teacher for several years and named her dog partially after Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“On a personal level, I would never be able to do a show that didn’t align with my own moral compass,” she shared. “I’m fine with playing someone a little hard-edged, as long as she’s on the right side of history….”
Growing up in a humanitarian home, MaameYaa Boafo (“Briana”) has always been connected to social justice in her real life. Her dad worked for a refugee agency finding housing for refugees.
“Being able to blend my art…feels like a win-win. I am so grateful specifically to be a part of ‘Bluff City Law.’” In addition to acting, she helps with a school that her parents built in Ghana. She’s passionate about children in foster care. And upon learning that there’s a large population of Sudanese people in Memphis, she plans to find a way to connect with them as well.
“The world should be our home,” she said. “We should be invited everywhere.”
Atkinson (“Della”) is quite the spark plug and has apparently been so from way back. During our conversation about southern ladies, gentility and polite society, she spoke about how she left her sorority in college because they wouldn’t accept her Jewish friend. She also left her church after the pastor said her friend wouldn’t be allowed in heaven because of her ethnicity.
And, of course, there’s Smits, who is a longtime spokesperson for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is also a famously outspoken activist and advocate in the LatinX community.
According to Janollari, one of the producers, they wanted a backdrop that was different, not the same skyline and streets of New York, Chicago, LA; and not even Nashville. In fact, they were very insistent about using Memphis, with the hope of investing their time and talent and eventually giving it the allure and luster of some of its peer cities. I know we receive that. And we receive them.
Another common thread is that most of them knew little about Memphis and had never been here. They came with a blank slate that they have already filled with love for our city. Memphians have embraced them wholly, as we tend to do.
There is so much to unpack and more to come. Suffice it to say for now that the cast is a lovely bunch. They gel well and move as a family, which, in addition to their own personal connections to the show, turns up on the screen. Stay tuned for funny things I learned and more about the show itself.
“Bluff City Law” will air on Mondays at 9 p.m. CT on NBC, beginning Sept. 23.