The Memphis-based and blues-infused new legal drama Bluff City Law has a high-minded premise: that attorneys like Elijah and Sydney Strait are fighting to “change the world” by going after evil corporations willing to “ruin your life” to protect their profits.
In the Sept. 23, pilot episode, Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) asks his daughter Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee) to leave her job on “the dark side” as a corporate defense attorney and join forces with him after her mother dies suddenly.
“I want you fighting for what’s right. Yes, by my side,” Elijah tells her. “It’s where you belong. We both know it, your mom did, too.” Eventually she concedes in spite of their personality conflicts.
Together, portrayed as the heroes, they face off in the courtroom on behalf of a school custodian, Edgar Soriano, who is battling cancer and attributes it to years of exposure to Amerifarm’s “Greencoat” herbicide.
After the corporations’ attorneys appear to have gained the upper hand, a colleague tracks down a scientist, Dr. Nancy Deemer, who worked for Amerifarm and did a test that found certain levels of exposure cause cancer.
Deemer tells them when she found that, “Before I knew it, lawyers were in my lab shutting me down and telling me if I said anything they’d bankrupt me.”
When Elijah and Sydney ask her to testify, she refuses saying, “They’ll ruin my life.”
Elijah persuades her by telling her she’s a “victim” of the company as much as Soriano, and “this moment is the moral arc of the universe coming around to give you the chance to hold them accountable for forcing you to live all of these years with that guilt and regret.”
In Sydney’s closing arguments she declares that “companies like Amerifarm are lying to us to make money” and urges the jury to “make this a better world for all of us.” The jury finds in favor of her client and awards a $46.4 million judgment against Amerifarm.
If that sounds somewhat familiar (with Hollywood exaggeration), it’s no coincidence. Without ever naming “Roundup” or “Monsanto,” E! Online reported that the pilot episode was “ripped from the headlines.”
In a red carpet interview, McGee told E! It was “based around a real case that happened.” The show is designed to “paint a larger picture of the human beings that were hurt by this and that’s what will make you care even more about what’s happening in the news,” McGee said.
She added that she hoped the show would inspire people “to take real personal action.”