First of all, the show tries too hard. From the opening cityscape montage (do we really need to see
contrived exciting scenes of New York City again?) to the stop-trick filming to show actors either leaving or entering a scene, Bar wants to be recognized as A Hot New Show. But it’s more bits and pieces of what we’ve already seen.
Raising the Bar is written and produced by Steven Bochco, and on paper, this bodes well. He has a proven resume, no argument there. We loved our Hill Street Blues (I used to have an accounting professor that cautioned at the end of every class, “Hey, be careful out there”) our L.A. Law, and our NYPD Blue. And by now, I’m sure he’s been forgiven the barrel-of-monkeys fun that was Cop Rock. So, absolutely we are talking about some decent Hollywood street cred.
However there are some obstructions to TV justice at work here.
First of all, it’s not clear that Bochco has figured out what story he wants to tell. Is it a legal coming-of-age story, where a gaggle of law student buddies find themselves on the opposite sides of the courtroom and haven’t yet figured out that there was bound to be friction? Is it a cry for court reform? While it is possible – and desirable even – to have layers, subplots, and more than one idea being thrown out there, Raising the Bar does not seem sure of itself.
And the dialogue tends be clichéd; bits like: “…put this in the ‘win’ column, and move on…” or, “I’d rather be in jail with Calvin, than free and part of a system that put him there!” are wince-inducing. Also, many of the characterizations are one dimensional or trite. Law clerk Charlie (Jonathan Scarfe, ER, Commander in Chief) has a “secret”, but in the year 2008 it’s more of a yawn than a gasp when the secret is finally revealed. Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons) as Judge Trudy Kessler is quite the frightful, predictable bitch. I think we’d all prefer to see Malcolm’s mom Lois wearing the robes; at least she had a sense of fairness at the end of the day. Kaczmarek does fine though, with what she’s been given.