August 22, 2013



Read All Our Fall Pilot Reports here and Midseason Pilot Reports here.

RAKE:  Thursday 9PM on FOX starting Midseason TBD – Worth A Look

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

FOX’s high-profile midseason dramedy RAKE wastes no time in establishing its protagonist Keegan Deene’s (Greg Kinnear) lovable-heel bona fides.  In the opening minutes, we see Key (as he’s called) with gorgeous hooker Nikki (Bojana Novakovic)–the closest thing he has to a genuine relationship in his life– and learn that he’s a compulsive gambler who owes thousands to his bookie (he’s such a degenerate that he spends the funeral of his law-firm mentor listening to a football game on his phone) and that he’s ducking the IRS, which is after him for tax evasion.  He’s also a first-rate attorney who has, no surprise, a problem with authority, a fast-talking way around obstacles and underneath it all, a good heart (and a stalker, for reasons left open in the pilot). 

Rake is based on a hit Australian series of the same name (it had limited US distribution through DirecTV), and it’s been adapted by its original creator Peter Duncan.  (Duncan also directed the Australian pilot, but for the US version, the project acquired big-time moviemaker Sam Raimi, who does a fine although essentially anonymous job.)  More to the point, perhaps, is that the series showrunner will be Peter Tolan, who as co-creator of Rescue Me knows quite a bit about lovable heels.  That may indicate a harder edge for the series after it moves past the pilot, which while entertaining is also a bit mushy.

The particular shortcoming of the pilot is in its plotting.  We want Key to be brilliant in the courtroom–the lovable-heel genre almost demands it–but the pilot’s storyline feels a bit like warmed-over Franklin & Bash.  Key’s client is an admitted cannibal (Denis O’Hare, who after True Blood and American Horror Story might want to consider a turn as a nice smalltown schoolteacher) who claims that while he indeed ate a deceased, he didn’t actually kill his meal.  Ultimately, of course, that turns out to be true, but Key relies more on courtroom stunts than any true inspiration to win the case.  The show is also in too much of a hurry to make it clear that Key isn’t deluded about Nikki–she has feelings for him, too, and is leaving the oldest profession, so in the end their relationship is almost conventional.

The pilot doesn’t make much use of a very fine supporting cast, which includes John Ortiz as Key’s best friend Ben, a fellow lawyer married to Assistant DA Scarlett (Necar Zadegan), who of course is Key’s courtroom opponent, as well as Miranda Otto as Key’s shrink ex-wife Maddy.  Having that kind of talent on the bench suggests that the show has plans to expand their characters, which would be wise.

In the end, though, Rake is about the considerable appeal of Greg Kinnear.  Although Kinnear has never stopped working, and he’s been in some hits like Little Miss Sunshine, he’s never quite become a movie star, but he’s the kind of born TV lead who makes it all look effortless.  Key is an improviser who can deftly hop from questioning witnesses to running rings around the IRS to impersonating a professor when the moment calls for it, and Kinnear can handle those bits while also suggesting Key is genuinely lovesick when he thinks Nikki may vanish from his life.  He makes Rake enjoyable even when the script comes up a bit short–and we know from his work in films like Auto Focus that if the series goes darker, he can go there as well.

Rake can do fairly well for itself as a lightweight TNT/USA-ish (excepting Suits) piece of fluff, but when it takes over the Glee slot at midseason (like The Following, Rake will only produce a limited number of episodes per year), it’ll be facing the still-formidable Grey’s Anatomy, as well as sitcoms on CBS and NBC.  If it wants to stand out as more than a modest star vehicle, Tolan could be the man to make that happen; otherwise, Rake may just be a way to pass the time.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."