TV Recap: Rake, ‘Serial Killer’ (Series Premiere)

Plot: In order to pay off an enormous debt with some quick cash, lawyer Keegan Deane (Greg Kinnear) takes a case where the defendant has already confessed his crimes. He expects the case to end quickly with his serial killer client pleading guilty. However, things get complicated for Keegan when Jack Tarrant (Peter Stormare) enters a plea of not guilty.

Rake is easily one of the most publicized shows in this crop of mid-winter premieres. There have been advertisements running on TV around the clock and Greg Kinnear’s face is plastered all over New York City subways. Many websites have been touting the show as the next great thing since House M.D. Now I don’t know about you, but saying that a show is similar to the hit medical drama House is really attention grabbing. Fox has had a gaping hole in its schedule since House ended (some might say it’s as big as a…house) so it makes sense that they would want to bring in a new show with a similar “asshole/savant” theme. Was the premiere of Rake up to the task?

Photo Credit:  David Johnson/FOX
Photo Credit: David Johnson/FOX

Let me just squash that whole idea right now. Rake does not even come close to what House was. Yes, both shows are focused on main characters who are massive dicks and are also awesome at their respective professions, but that’s really it. What made House so groundbreaking was how it portrayed a medical professional, someone people expect to be friendly and literally life saving, as an unashamed asshole. Lawyers have been lambasted in entertainment for decades though which makes the idea of Keegan being an unforgiving attorney completely unoriginal by comparison. There was also a significant sense of urgency present in every episode of House, something that is also completely absent from Rake. Keegan’s clients aren’t just going to drop dead or lose their cases on a moments notice. And lastly, House was obviously a drama with comedy thrown in and Rake is clearly a comedy with drama thrown in. The two really couldn’t be more different so let’s blame early promoters for setting this show up to a standard it simply can’t meet.

Greg Kinnear is by far this show’s greatest strength. He absolutely kills it as the womanizing, gambling lawyer who has made a lot of mistakes in his life. When Keegan is in court defending his client, his charisma and expertise is palpable. He’s easily able to glide through the courtroom with a commanding presence. Outside of the courtroom you see the entire other side of Keegan which is a man filled with desperation and flaws. He sleeps on a couch owned by his best friend Ben (John Ortiz), pays a prostitute named Mikki (Bojana Novakovic) to keep him company, and goes to therapy lead by his ex-wife Maddy (Miranda Otto). Kinnear excels in each setting all the while being a self-obsessed jerk.

Photo Credit:  Patrick McElhenney/FOX
Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FOX

The supporting cast is another story. Rake is simply filled to the brim with characters that almost have no connection with each other. In “Serial Killer,” the characters that actually have a bearing to the main plot are Ben, his wife Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), the Mayor of LA, and Keegan’s assistant Leanne (Tara Summers). Each of these characters brings the story forward in a fluid and natural way. But then we have the other characters that, while serving the purpose of providing Keegan with depth, ultimately have little consequence since they only appear once during the premiere. Maddy, Keegan’s son Finn (Ian Colletti), and Mikki all fall into this category. I understand their importance but they’re so absent that it’s really hard to care about them. They also have no connections to the main plot of Keegan’s case so when they’re on screen everything comes to a halt. Rake just has too many characters and not enough time to focus on them.

Thankfully there’s a very interesting story surrounding most of these characters. The overall plot really flows well, successfully upending viewer expectations in the process. For the first half of the episode, Keegan is making mistake after mistake in the most comical manner. Rake was actually legitimately funny in some parts. The story gets even better too when Keegan kicks his investigation into high gear to find out that Jack really was innocent in all but one of his murders. This proved that the previously cut and dry case was actually much deeper than anyone could imagine. Keegan’s ability to turn an impossible situation on its head is probably his most endearing (and I’ll admit, Gregory House-like) quality. If he could bring that trait to his daily life, Keegan probably wouldn’t be up to his eyeballs in debt.

Photo Credit:  Warwick Saint/FOX
Photo Credit: Warwick Saint/FOX

My biggest complaint of this premiere was near the end after it’s proven that the corrupt Chief of Police pinned nine murders on Jack when he actually only committed one. The Mayor does his expected speech stating that the Chief has been fired and he thanks Keegan for flushing out corruption. Once Keegan and the Mayor meet however, the Mayor comments that Keegan made his life very difficult and he promises “reciprocity.” Nothing like some good old government corruption! That reciprocity comes in the form of Keegan’s crushed car which was impounded earlier in the episode. The Mayor and the LAPD were even kind enough to leave a hand written note on the now cube shaped car.

Normally you’d expect this to have some major ramifications, but you know what actually happens? Keegan and his friends Ben and Scarlet completely laugh the whole thing off. Yes, apparently no one on gives a shit that the Mayor and the LAPD are clearly corrupt individuals who use their power to threaten a man whose biggest offense to them is doing his job well. “Oh Keegan, that story of how the Mayor and the police force of one of the biggest cities in the world destroyed your personal property is hilarious!” which is something I’d like to believe Ben thought. How does this make ANY sense? There’s no reason for me to believe that Rake is anything but reality and this is just unbelievably unrealistic.

To call Rake the next House is a huge mistake. The two really couldn’t be any more different. Yet on its own accord, Rake is actually a pretty entertaining program. Kinnear honestly steals the show and really makes it his own. The supporting cast also has some strong characters in there despite its size. Outside the completely baffling ending, I enjoyed my hour with this new lawyer drama. Will I come back to watch it on a weekly basis? The jury is still out on that one. While I may not be sucked into this show hook line and sinker, there’s enough here that I can reasonably expect a solid amount of people to like it. I doubt you’ll see Rake on any “Best of 2014” lists but there really are worse things to watch on TV.

Rating: 7/10

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