Rake: TV Review

Warwick Saint/FOX

Premieres: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. (Fox)
Stars: Greg Kinnear, Miranda Otto, John Ortiz, Necar Zadegan, Tara Summers, Bojana Novakovic

Based on the Australian drama of the same name, Rake follows the comedic and chaotic life of criminal defense lawyer Keegan Deane (Kinnear).

Keegan Deane (Kinnear) is a defense attorney who hasn't really grown up. He loves gambling and women and drinking and getting into all kinds of scrapes and cons he can't quite get out of -- though sometimes his wink and his charm are enough. But that may not be enough for viewers who have seen his sort for years (and perhaps in better-built shows). In a crowded field, familiarity is often troubling.

Greg Kinnear and a solid cast may not be enough to save this scoundrel series from its own familiarity.

Sometimes you think you want something until you get it. For those who may have seen Fox’s endless promotions for Rake, starring that charmer Greg Kinnear and premiering Jan. 23 at 9 p.m., the previews made it look like a comedic lark worth following.

That is, Kinnear was seen in a number of situations (often bloody and bruised, in some kind of trouble he was hoping a wink would get him out of), and as those situations piled up a familiar TV trope emerged – the lovable loser who is nobody’s idea of reliable but in the end redeems his bad behavior by doing something good for others or for society.

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And that’s what Rake is, basically. Imagine those traits on a loop. See, Kinnear, that old rake, goes about his scoundrel ways with women, booze, gambling, lying, getting into scrapes that he can sometimes but not always talk his way out of. As a defense attorney more interesting in having fun than being proficient, he doesn’t have a lot of clients and a lack of clients is bad for his gambling, which is just one of his many addictions. On paper, this sounds like an excellent fit for Kinnear (which it is), even when it sounds awfully familiar (which it is – including being based on an Australian series).

However, once you see the pilot unspool, you might have reservations about its charm. And familiarity.

As a dramedy, Rake doesn’t have much drama – the legal case in the pilot is given barely any thoroughness and, for a serial killer and police corruption case, that’s really saying something. Instead, the emphasis is on Kinnear’s wild side as he plays Keegan Deane (or Kee/Key as he’s called repeatedly). That wild side means that his drunkenness, womanizing and all-around unreliability is taking a toll on his best friend Ben (John Ortiz), and Ben’s wife Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), Assistant District Attorney for Los Angeles. Though Ben and Scarlet love Keegan dearly, they’re married, with children, responsible and have, as friends since law school, cooled on Keegan’s inability to grow up. But yes, in case you were wondering, they can’t resist him ultimately.

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Also putting up with Keegan is Leanne (Tara Summers) his tireless assistant who hasn’t been paid in ages. And Mikki (Bojana Novakovic), his $500 and hour prostitute who probably has a heart of gold but definitely has some kind of un-hooker-like love for the man.

Ah, Keegan also has an ex-wife (Miranda Otto) and a son (Ian Colletti) – the former still exasperated by him and the latter starting to look like a younger version of him.

And it goes on.

That’s a lot to pack into a pilot that, despite all of those characters, seems flimsy. A big part of that is despite Kinnear’s charm, it’s not especially easy to like the Keegan character. Maybe he’s such a screw-up that it’s tiring. Or maybe the trope is so tiring as to block interest.

If you can’t love the rake in Keegan, then you sure can’t love the lawyer in him either (since it’s barely developed in the pilot). That leaves Rake as an overly familiar character study and an under-developed law procedural. In today’s incredibly competitive TV environment, that might be an hour you can’t afford to screw up like Keegan would.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine