I want to start this review by saying that, for me, Rake had three great things going into it a priori: Greg Kinnear (whose work I’ve always enjoyed), and the idea that FOX’s new series was House, M.D., but with lawyers, not doctors. Third, the series is executive produced and written by Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, The Larry Sanders Show, Murphy Brown). Rake’s creator/executive producer/writer is Australian film director/writer Peter Duncan. I really, really wanted to love the new show. And I’m really disappointed that I do not (at least not yet). But I’m willing to be persuaded.
Rake is about Keegan Deane (known to all as Kee, and played by the wonderful Greg Kinnear), a lawyer who is sort of a screw up. He’s in debt to his bookie, and he’s narcissistic and self-destructive. In other words, his life is a chaotic mess. He takes advantage of family and friendship, but he’s actually quite good at his job as a defense attorney (but it’s not clear from the pilot episode that he’s not just luckier in work than he is at gambling). And he is (as it says in FOX’s press release) “frustratingly charming.”
A brilliant lawyer he may be, but brilliant at living, he’s not. Yes, he gets by on his charm and considerable persuasive skills, but during the pilot episode “Serial Killer,” he shleps a rare fish around with him in hopes of selling it to pay back his bookie, the fish gets older and less valuable, and by the end, it all seems rather pointless and stupid, especially for a lawyer whose best asset (besides his charm) is supposedly his big brain. I can see this sort of plot line working better, a little further on in the series, once Kee’s character is better established, and we understand he’s not really quite as stupid as he comes across here.
I get the comparison to House, M.D. Like the main character of the dearly departed Fox series that ran from 2004-2012, Kee is bad at life except when it counts. For Dr. Gregory House, that was the in curing illness; with Kee it is with getting justice for his client.
But House was subtle in ways that Rake can only aspire, and from the first scenes of the pilot episode, the viewer got a sense there was much more than a smart-ass doctor with a limp. House was a guy who fundamentally saw the illness as injustice that had to be righted. We understood from the start that House was troubled, and we wanted to know why. We saw his brilliance, and comprehended that beneath the jerk, lay, well…still a jerk, but a jerk with a well-hidden compassion to go along with his big brain.
In Rake, we don’t really see much of Kee’s purported brilliance in the pilot. I wish we had; instead, he spends more of his time trying to dodge the loan shark’s enforcer and charm his annoyed family than pursuing justice. Kinnear is fine as Rake’s anti-hero. As always, he’s charming and intelligent. But for me to really get into this show, I’d like to see a lot more depth to both the stories and the character. I think if the episode spent more time diving into his brilliance — what makes Kee unique — and less on his quirky side, I would have been far more impressed.
But it’s early in the game, and Rake isn’t by any means a bad show; it has its moments (especially the courtroom scenes), and there are flashes of real potential in places. I have hopes that the series will find the right balance between the funny-quirky side of Kee and his intelligent-intellectual side: the comedy and the drama/character study. A film actor for years, Kinnear chose this show to be his debut in television for a reason, and I’m willing to give the series another episode or three to understand why.
Rake airs Thursday nights on FOX.