[This is a review of the Rake series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
How much mileage can you get out of charm? That's the question that faces both FOX's new legal dramedy Rake and the show's main character, Keegan Joye.
Starring Greg Kinnear as a perpetually disheveled, gambling, debt-saddled lawyer who is always working some kind of angle - with his friends, his prostitute girlfriend, and his peers - Kinnear is enjoyable when onscreen, winning viewers over with an affable nature and a wry smile. The trouble is, there's little to draw us to the character beyond that cursory description and charm. Will that grow and improve as the show goes on? Hopefully.
One thing that isn't encouraging is that this isn't actually the pilot episode. That will air later, so if this is what the show looks like after a few tries, it's fair to wonder if they'll get the hang of it anytime soon. But for that to happen, the show's supporting characters are going to need to display more depth.
They're also going to need to do more than shoot Keegan a look and utter a catchphrase about the hazards of a marital "conversation" when Keegan brings home a woman, has their children detained by child protective services, or brings a bookie to their backyard.
This character needs to worry about consequences and his friend's feelings or there will be no narrative growth, no purpose, and only empty quirks and unlikely professional wizardry - two things that greatly undermine this episode.
As a serial killer whose case is passed to Keegan in lieu of poker winnings, the (seemingly) always shifty Peter Stormare is hard to read as he changes his plea from guilty to not guilty and messes with Keegan's schedule thanks to accusations that he makes about the Los Angeles Chief of Police.
He's the kind of character that you wish would stick around, but unfortunately, it seems like Keegan Joye is the kind of lawyer who only has a client for a little more than a day before he has a great third act "Ah ha" moment. A moment that is disappointingly convenient and underdeveloped in this episode because the producers decided that it was worth more to follow Keegan on his quest to unload an expensive tuna (again in lieu of payment, cue the quirk overdose) that he drags everywhere in a white cooler.
After just one episode, it feels unfair to compare this show to House, but it also feels like this show (an adaptation of an Australian series) is trying to mine the same rock and sell this character as the next great lovable rogue. Trouble is, Rake is a remarkably inferior product when compared to House - even if we're judging both off of the first episodes alone. House had a deep bench that could handle their own storylines. It's not impossible that that happens with Rake, but the fish in the cooler had more of a pulse than three quarters of the cast in this first episode.
Another difference between the two: Dr. Gregory House cared, and it seems like Keegan Joye's appeal is supposed to come from how he does not. At one point, he tells a judge that all of his clients are guilty. How are we to perceive that other than as an example of how he doesn't take his work seriously? Oh sure, he's good at it, but it's accidental proficiency and it may not be sustainable.
At the center of Gregory House was a ceaseless fire to be right. That character cared about figuring out these diseases (with predictable regularity thanks to a third act "Ah ha" moment) and he cared about winning. What does Keegan Joye care about, and why should it make us care about his whole rakish routine?
These are the big questions that face a show with some potential (thanks to Kinnear and the presence of producer Peter Tolan) and a lot of glaring weaknesses.
Rake airs Thursdays @9pm on Fox.