Rake: Thursdays at 9 Eastern on FOX
It’s been a pretty dismal January for the big four, with unhealthy amounts of mediocrity being strewn around the major networks. I think that a large part of this is that shows that seem like they would traditionally drop in mid to late spring (such as the eight episode The Assets and Killer Women) are being thrown under the Olympic bus in favor for a packed slate of late February and early March debuts. The one network that has seemed to buck this trend is Fox, which put out the surprisingly good Enlisted (it kills me a little inside that Dads is still leading into Brooklyn Nine-Nine over this) and seems to put a lot of ad time (doubly so if you tend to watch a lot of FoxNOW or Fox on Demand) towards it’s newest legal drama: Rake.
Rake follows criminal defense attorney Keegan Deane (Greg Kinnear), a man seemingly as immoral as the people he defends. Keegan is a womanizer, a habitual gambler (to the extent that he gets a tab from his bookie), and the IRS is going after him for tax evasion. To make matters worse, his ex-wife (to whom he owes alimony) doubles as his therapist. Behind all of that chaos, however, is a brilliant defense attorney willing to take on the cases that no one else has the gumption to take.
Rake is surprisingly funny for a drama, with tons of levity and witty one liners. Almost every character and every scene in the show (up until the climactic arc) is punched up, regardless of whether a scene is supposed to be funny (like Deane and Leanne trying to sell a tuna to a sushi restaurant), sexy (like Deane’s dealings with his prostitute), or dramatic (such as the mayor’s interrogation of his police chief), and lands with it’s jokes more often than not.
Where the show doesn’t work is as a procedural. The pilot seemed to treat it’s case (in which Deene defends a serial killer in what should have been an easy “guilty” plea) as something on the side. Instead we get what seems like a series of anecdotes of Deane’s life being completely out of whack with a little bit of lawyering on the side. These anecdotes however, often also fall flat from a dramatic perspective, as the stakes of Deane’s dysfunctional lifestyle always seem to inexplicably be skirted (such as the beating from Roy he is destined to receive at the end of the episode).
At times it seems like Greg Kinnear is called on to carry the entire show, and Kinnear succeeds in that regard, as the hyper-charismatic Deane. Unfortunately, Rake reduces everyone else to bit-player status, whether it’s his favorite prostitute, his ex-wife, his friend’s wife/housemate, the killer of the week, or Roy (his loan shark’s muscle). Part of this comes from the seemingly disconnected structure of the pilot, as the show spends it’s time bouncing from story to story with even it’s A and B plots often seeing no more than three or four beats over the course of an episode.
The Final Verdict: Rake is immensely entertaining but seems to struggle in finding it’s natural niche, having equal parts personal drama, legal drama, and comedy. The premiere seemed to overemphasize the comedy to a degree, making for a show that often fell into a sort of plot quicksand up until the show’s third act. Despite my seeming negativity, I’d probably recommend checking it out, as it’s up against fairly weak competition (and is strictly funnier than what CBS and NBC are calling comedy in the Thursday 9pm hour) and with some minor tweaks easily become one of the better shows on network TV.