The anti-hero has typically been the domain of cable television series. Sure, on network TV there have been shows like House, but for the most part, the major networks need to create series to appeal to a broad audience.
This typically means the absence of nuanced storytelling that is demanded for a series where the protagonist is complicated and has an obvious dark side. Typical network fare wants to have the issues all wrapped up by the end of the hour, which is why procedurals are popular, but also want to have cases that are easy to sort out the heroes and villains. FOX is trying to tread into cable television territory with its latest series Rake about a vain, gamble addicted, possibly alcoholic, broke lawyer named Keegan Deane.
Adaptations and Originals
Rake is adapted from an Australian series of the same name, but much like most adaptions, there have been several major alterations including the name of the lead character. It is the lead character that draws yet another similarity to a cable series, since it is played by film star, Greg Kinnear. It is the cable series’ that are better known for attracting the bigger names from Hollywood, likely due the recent creative resurgence and prestige that has arisen over the past decade. Kinnear isn’t a mega-star, but he has critical acclaimed films like Little Miss Sunshine and Good As It Gets to his credit, and has played crucial roles in major hits like Anchorman 2. He is a very recognizable face, but more importantly, he is terrific casting for the Deane character.
Kinnear is a diverse actor that has played countless roles, but he also has a charm and charisma that draw you in. He is engaging no matter the material and has a strong likability factor. This is an important attribute when playing a complete loser that is bumming a couch off a friend, seems more obsessed with fame than helping his clients, and likes to deflect blame to others even when he is at fault. Kinnear wills you into understanding why people like Deane, and why the heavy hired to rough him up feels awful about it.
In the Beginning…..
In my experience reviewing television, I find even some of the very best series still start out with barely decent premieres. It is hard to base the quality or the future entertainment value on that very first episode. The major problem is always the need to cram in all the characters, try to force feed the premise, and get all the series or season long story lines put in place. Plus, it usually takes time for the writers to find their characters’ voice and figure out the purpose of the show. They need to try to entice the viewer, but also set the groundwork for a show that can go for a long haul. Saying all that, Rake was a little uneven, especially with how they set him up as a putz at the start who can barely find clients but then trying to convince us he is a brilliant lawyer. The character study aspect of the show was far more interesting than the case about the serial killer lying about the majority of his murders in order to get fame.
The main concentration of the episode was more about establishing Deane and getting to know the important people in his life. He is in a relationship with a prostitute named Melissa (Bojana Novakovic) or at least a business relationship, considering he has to pay for her affection. The intriguing part of the arrangement is the obvious chemistry they have and how it hints they have strong feelings for each other, even though it isn’t something you brag to your mom about. Another really interesting relationship is Deane getting free counseling from his ex-wife, which is definitely one of the more fun twists of the series. I’m sure there will be much future banter and battles between the two over the season.
The Friends and the Job
Deane is good friends with Ben (John Ortiz) and Scarlet (Necar Zadegan) to the point they’ve allowed him free board at their house, even though he seems to cause poor Ben to have many “future discussions” with Scarlet. Scarlet also ends up being the prosecuting attorney against Deane this episode, and had the added tension of Deane being responsible for her having to pick up her kids from child services before the trial.
The actual case had a few fun moments. His client starts out really bummed to see that there isn’t much of a crowd to see his plea. He brags to Deane about Mark Harmon playing him in the TV movie about his crimes. The gag is elevated by him even having a letter for Harmon about possible suggestions for a sequel. The obsessions with fame and how a crime could be a career launcher was the type of dark humour you’d expect on cable. It also offered a nice parallel with Deane who starts obsessing more about the money and fame he can get by suing the city over possible wrongful convictions rather than even being able to remember his client’s name.
Redemption does have to happen for Deane, because they don’t want us hating him after only the first episode. Despite the fact the running joke at the start was he had no clients and had to take this case because of that, it is later shown he quite good at what he does. Makes you wonder why no one would hire him then, but since this is a series, I guess they will all be starting to now. Deane ends up using Chief Michaels’ grammatical flaws as the proof that the Chief did force his client into writing some confessions. It also ends up being the same evidence that shows that the very first murder was done by the man he is defending. Deane becomes a hero by outing the chief, but also doing the right thing by not hiding the fact his client isn’t totally innocent.
The best stuff is the crazy situations that Deane gets himself into. He end up getting his car towed and can’t drive any other vehicle because he has a 2-years expired license, so this means he has to lug a cooler full of a giant fish everywhere he goes. Wait, why does he have fish? Well, naturally he had a client that paid him in expensive fish rather than money, with the promise that he could sell it for $15,000 to a sushi restaurant. Of course, that doesn’t work well when Deane dares to actually touch the precious fish in front of the restaurant owner. It is oddball shenanigans like this that will hopefully keep the show entertaining.
Hopefully, the writers have the guts to not try to redeem Deane every week. Deane isn’t completely redeemed by the end, as he is still the guy who is glued to his cell rather than help his petrified son merge on the freeway. I realize that it is hard to have a series that doesn’t have someone we can root for. Kinnear has a presence that keeps you hooked and willing to look past the flaws. The show is really at its best when Deane does things like banter with the cops over his expired license or offering freshly cooked fish to the man planning to rearrange his face.
Rake airs Thursdays at 9pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)