Although TV has no shortage of roguish ne’er-do-wells, they are seldom as entertaining — at least initially — as the protagonist in “Rake,” a lawyer/womanizer/compulsive gambler whose life is a runaway train wreck occasionally interrupted by high-profile, slightly bizarre cases. Alas, the quirky legal shenanigans that give the series, presumably, its procedural foundation are also the least interesting aspect of the show, which features Greg Kinnear’s comic abilities with a tone that perhaps most closely resembles CBS’ “The Good Wife.” Those qualities also make the program’s prospects difficult to read, which of course wouldn’t stop our fumbling hero from betting on it.
The show is adapted from an Australian series, with Kinnear’s Keegan Deane shuffling from one crisis to the next, taking on cases mostly to service his vices. As presented in the Sam Raimi-directed premiere (which replaces, but closely resembles, the pilot), those excesses in general include betting on just about anything, and in particular driving with an expired license and bringing a woman back to the house of his friend Ben (John Ortiz), with whom he’s staying out of economic necessity.
Deane also has an ongoing relationship with a prostitute (Bojana Novakovic), although he doesn’t always seem to recognize the professional nature of their encounters; seeks counseling from his ex-wife (Miranda Otto); and indulges in surprisingly cordial exchanges with the enforcer (Omar Dorsey) sent to beat him up periodically for not paying his gambling debts.
Thanks to Kinnear, most of this works, although there are touches that feel a tad too precious — like the fact Ben’s severe wife (Necar Zadegan) is also a District Attorney and, as such, Deane’s frequent opponent in court. In the premiere, they joust over a serial killer (Peter Stormare) who seeks to recant his confession, while a later hour features another marquee guest star, Denis O’Hare, as a cannibal who insists the person he ate consented to such an end.
While “Rake” has initial promise, it’s one of those concepts that (like much of what Deane says) should be viewed with a degree of skepticism, since the balance of the protagonist’s shambles of a personal life and his seat-of-the-pants courtroom heroics are so delicate. The hope, clearly, is that viewers will become so enamored of the character they’ll show up primarily to spend with him (a la “House”), making the particulars and repetitive elements less important.
Fox has seemingly given the show a vote of confidence with its post-“American Idol” timeslot, but one suspects “Rake” won’t enjoy much overlap with that audience, meaning the series will probably have to sink or swim on its own. And while the cable-ish tone should garner praise, that’s hardly an assurance, as we’ve seen in the past, of the wider acceptance that broadcast shows need.
Fox has enjoyed occasional success with eccentric leads, and Keegan Deane certainly fits that profile. Indeed, even the title employs an old-fashioned term referring to a man who lives a life of debauchery.
So what sort of man (and mostly, woman) will want to watch this playboy? It’s hard to say, but if Fox loses on this dice roll, at least nobody should beat them up over it.