Does television really need another show about lawyers? Probably not, but when it’s created by TV legend Steven Bochco, the behind such classics as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, I might be willing to make an exception. However, Bochco’s newest series, Raising the Bar, is a by-the-book courtroom drama starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar that premieres on TNT tonight at 10pm following a new episode of The Closer.
If you’ve seen The Practice, you’re familiar with the premise: passionate defense attorneys fight for their clients while diligent prosecutors try to put them away. Much like The Practice, Raising the Bar takes a look at both sides of the courtroom by focusing on a group of law school friends who do battle in trial and get together for drinks afterwards.
The tiny additional twist is that the prosecutors and defense attorneys are also friends with a judge’s clerk who may single-handedly save the show from mediocrity with his twisted and intriguing relationship with Judge Trudy Kessler, played by the fantastic Jane Kaczmarek.
Sadly, other relationship drama on the show is predictable, most notably one pairing that is so eerily similar to the first season of The Practice that David E. Kelley could sue for copyright infringement. It doesn’t help that Gosselaar is sporting the worst hair since Tom Hanks in The DaVinci Code. His long hair is an obvious attempt to inform the audience that his defense lawyer Jerry Kellerman is an idealistic, brash child who only cares about justice and isn’t afraid to argue with authority.
Kellerman’s flaws are that he’s a cliché. Arguing with a judge and getting thrown into jail with your client because he stood up for his rights might have been groundbreaking 10 years ago, but on Raising the Bar he comes across less as a crusader for justice as more as a petulant child. The most laughable part is that, despite being a public defender, all of his clients in the first three episodes just happen to be innocent. It’s easy to fight for the innocent, but the more compelling legal issue is defending the guilty, though The Practice has probably covered that territory as well as any show could hope to do.
I’m also led to wonder what Bochco’s fascination with Gosselaar is. This marks the fourth series they’ve worked on together, following NYPD Blue, Commander in Chief and the FX drama Over There. Perhaps Bochco is a closet Zack Morris fan, or maybe he was one of the 14 people who watched the short-lived WB series Hyperion Bay. Gosselaar is a decent enough actor (especially compared to the rest of the Saved by the Bell cast), but until he gets a haircut, it will be impossible to see him as a leading man.
This might sound like a bad review, but Raising the Bar is perfectly watchable. The problem is that with Bochco behind the camera and talented actresses like Kaczmarek and Gloria Reuben, Raising the Bar should be far better than it is.
-John Kubicek, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image courtesy of TNT)