Rake, a very promising new character-driven Fox dramedy premiering Thursday night, is being widely touted as “House in a courtroom.” That terse summary applies only superficially, though.
Based on an Australian series, Rake stars Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine) as Keegan Deane, a brilliant defense attorney whose personal life, like that of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House, is a complete train wreck. Keegan owes $67,000 to his bookie, who occasionally sends guys over to rough Keegan up just to save face. He is so far in arrears to the IRS that 70 percent of his income is being garnished. The closest thing he has to a girlfriend is Mikki Partridge (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me to Hell), a T.S. Eliot-quoting beauty who is working as a professional escort to pay her way through college. And the therapist who is trying to help Keegan work his way through all this mess is his ex-wife, Maddy (Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), with whom he has an adolescent son and to whom he owes six months’ alimony.
Partly out of financial desperation and partly out of his own lack of an inner filter, Keegan usually tackles cases most other attorneys would deem radioactive. The episode Fox originally sent out as the series pilot, which has been shuffled to later in the season, finds Keegan defending a brilliant economist and mayoral advisor (guest star Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Coven) who is accused of killing and eating a young accountant, for example.
That’s where Rake diverges from House, however. Series creator David Shore based his 2004-12 Fox medical drama on Sherlock Holmes (Holmes … Homes … House … get it?), and each episode contained a very strong procedural element as Greg House and his medical team tried to solve the life-threatening case of the week.
Rake, on the other hand, is far more interested in exploring the messy details of Keegan Deane’s life, with the courtroom proceedings providing only a lesser portion of (most) episodes. That’s fine with me, since Kinnear is one of my favorite actors, and one who I think is criminally underrated. He’s got leading-man good looks – I was stunned to realize that he’s now 50 – yet he always seems to vanish into his characters. If you want to see what I mean, and you have a high tolerance for dark material, check out his performance as porn-obsessed Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane in Paul Schrader’s intense fact-based 2002 drama Auto Focus. It’s grim yet electrifying.
I haven’t seen the episode Fox has elected to air this week in lieu of the original pilot, but tonally, Rake seems to be shooting for a fairly light touch, with frequent laugh-out-loud moments. I’m not ready yet to place any bets on its odds for success – for some reason, producers keep adapting Australian TV hits that immediately tank in this hemisphere – but with Kinnear in the lead and Peter Tolan (Rescue Me) among the executive producers, I’ll definitely be giving Rake a chance.