Tag Archives: Hugh Laurie

Fox’s Rake is more than just House in a courtoom

Greg Kinnear stars in 'Rake' on Fox.

Greg Kinnear stars as brilliant but screwed-up attorney Keegan Deane in ‘Rake,’ a new character-driven dramedy premiering Thursday on Fox.

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.

Blandings a jolly Wodehouse madhouse

P.G. Wodehouse stories inspired Blandings, a Britcom now available from Acorn Video.

Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Mark Williams and Jennifer Saunders (with the Empress, far left) star in ‘Blandings,’ now available in a two-disc set of Season 1 from Acorn Video.

The holidays have given me a welcome chance to catch up on some of the fall’s video offerings, few of them more engaging than Blandings, a new British TV adaptation of the stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse, an astonishingly prolific writer who died in 1975, cranked out a lengthy series of novels and short stories that delightfully deflated the pomposity of the English idle rich, never more brilliantly than in his stories about hapless Bertie Wooster and his resourceful valet, Jeeves.
That set of stories inspired, and that’s the only appropriate word, Jeeves and Wooster, an absolutely dazzling British TV series starring, respectively, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (House) in the title roles. It’s one of the pinnacles of British TV comedy and, frankly, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading now and log onto Hulu, which has the entire series available for streaming.
Blandings, now available in a six-episode, two-DVD set encompassing its first season from Acorn Video, is drawn from an entirely different series of Wodehouse novels and stories, this time set at Blandings Castle, circa 1929, where Clarence Threepwood, Lord Emsworth (former Oscar nominee Timothy Spall), would love nothing more to devote his every spare moment to his rose garden and, even more, the true apple of his eye: the Empress of Blandings, an enormous show pig who has the run of the estate.
Those dreams are vexed, however, on two fronts: his dimwitted son, Freddie (Jack Farthing), who is perpetually penniless despite a generous allowance, and Clarence’s formidable sister, Connie (Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous, in one of her best roles), who is determined to ensure the family reputation is preserved.
Connie has so successfully cowed her brother that in most cases she has only to issue her most dire threat – “I shall go to my room!” – to get her way, although in one particularly tense confrontation included in this set, she goes completely Lady Macbeth, telling Clarence, “I shall stab you through the heart and have your mutilated corpse dragged around Blandings by a donkey. Naked. The donkey shall be clothed to amplify your total degradation.”
And that’s generally how Wodehouse characters talk. In any other context, if someone entered a drawing room looking for a character named Angela, another person in the room might say simply, “She’s not here.” A Wodehouse character, however, replies, “This drawing room does not seem overstocked with Angelas.”
Stephen Fry’s Jeeves may be missing in this series, but he has a worthy surrogate in Beach (Mark Williams), Clarence’s long-suffering but doggedly loyal butler. You may not recognize Williams’ name off the top of your head, but you definitely know him – he was Ron Weasley’s dad in the Harry Potter movies, and he is a swiftly rising character actor worth watching (he has the title role in a newly syndicated TV series adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries).
Guest stars in season one of Blandings include David Walliams of Little Britain fame as a personal secretary hired by Connie whose autocratic style clashes harshly with Clarence (and Beach) and Jessica Hynes from the very funny miniseries Twenty Twelve as a penniless aristocrat who sets her cap for Clarence.
A second season of Blandings has been greenlit for production in 2014. For now, this Acorn set will give Wodehouse fans hours of pleasure.
'Little Britain' star David Walliams guest stars in 'Blandings.'

Stuffy personal secretary Rupert Baxter (David Walliams, ‘Little Britain’) comes to grief in Lord Emsworth’s heavily fertilized rose garden in ‘Blandings.’