Raising the Bar

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Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Monday, Sept. 1 (TNT)

Had it come from practically any other producer, I'd be tempted to bestow mild praise on TNT's "Raising the Bar" and let it go at that. It is, after all, a solid legal drama with several appealing characters, above-average dialogue and sporadic moments of first-class drama.

Steven Bochco, however, is TV royalty. He was the force behind many of TV's most daring and compelling shows ("Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law," "Murder One," "Over There," "NYPD Blue" and so on). His imprimatur on a series effectively raises the bar. Seen from that perspective, "Raising the Bar" is good -- but not good enough.

Overall, the show looks like it had been developed for the CW network. Most of the characters are young lawyers, either public defenders under the tutelage of mother hen Roz Whitman (Gloria Reuben) or fledgling prosecutors under the harsh, cynical thumb of Nick Balco (Currie Graham). They would appear more at home in the Ford Modeling agency waiting room than in Manhattan's gloomy courthouse corridors.

As if to emphasize the point, a rotund lawyer appears in the opening scenes of the second episode and is swiftly dispatched by a fatal heart attack. His kind simply is not welcome here.

The focal point is Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), whose commitment and idealism is obvious from his rumpled clothes, disorderly hair and (thank you, HD) T-shirts with frayed edges at the collar. The two most remarkable things about Kellerman are his ability to give each indigent client all the time needed and how every week his case goes before the same judge (Jane Kaczmarek), who of course loathes him.

Gosselaar has the part of the rebel with a cause down pat, but there should be a limit to the number of speeches he can give each week on the nature of justice. The show also would benefit from giving other members of the ensemble more to do, especially Reuben and Graham.

Bochco and co-creator David Feige are at their best when they make the story twist and turn over unexpected legal nuances. Too often, though, plots are contrived and coincidental (how many times can Kellerman defend clients against the same prosecutor, who just happens to be his girlfriend?) and lack the wonderful surprises that are trademarks of a Bochco production.

Production: Steven Bochco Prods. in association with ABC Studios. Cast: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben, Currie Graham, Melissa Sagemiller, J. August Richards, Jonathan Scarfe, Teddy Sears, Jane Kaczmarek, Michael Harney, Charles Malik Whitefield. Executive producer: Steven Bochco. Co-executive producer/director: Jesse Bochco. Supervising producer/writer: David Feige. Producer: Dayna Bochco. Creators/story: Steven Bochco, David Feige. Director of photography: Steven Foster; Production designer: Bruce Robert Hall; Editor: Jonathan Shaw; Music: James S. Levine; Casting: Junie Lowry Johnson, Scott Genkinger.

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