January 31, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Rake”


RAKE:  Thursday 9PM on FOX

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on RAKE:  Keegan Deane (Greg Kinnear) is an LA lawyer whose life is a wreck.  Between tax evasion issues and a gambling habit, he’s lost his house and has to live with his best friend Ben (John Ortiz) and Ben’s wife, ADA Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), he has no car, he owes a fortune in back pay to his assistant Leanne (Tara Summers), and his pal Roy (Omar J. Dorsey) is also the muscle for his bookie, so is frequently called upon to beat Keegan up.  Plus the closest Keegan has to a girlfriend is hooker Mikki (Bojana Novakovic), his unofficial shrink is his ex-wife Maddy (Miranda Otto), and he’s pissed off the LA Mayor, DA and Chief of Police, who are determined to make his life a living hell in every way possible.

Episode 2:  FOX took the unusual step of burying the original pilot for Rake within its run, which usually suggests that significant changes were made after the series pick-up.  But based on the first two episodes aired, that doesn’t seem to be the case–if anything, there’s less to Rake now than the pilot indicated.  The template for this kind of show usually requires that the insufferable character at its center (think House, or Sherlock) is so charismatic and brilliant at what he does that he can get away with his boorish behavior, but Keegan comes off only as an amiable smartass and a barely competent attorney.

Instead, the show continues to be bent on making Franklin & Bash look like The Good Wife.  The legal case in the show’s second aired episode, written by Producer Allison Abner and directed by Scott Winant, took up perhaps 10 minutes of the hour, and was a cutesy bit about reformed Amish bakers who forcibly cut off the beard of a Pennsylvania bishop from a more Orthodox sect, and who were accused of attempted murder and a hate crime; Keegan got them off for everything except simple assault by doing little more than reading the regulations of the order and checking into the victim’s background (it turned out he’d cut off someone’s beard himself).  The episode devoted more attention to the bread these guys baked than to their criminal trial.

Without a strong legal franchise as its spine, Rake has literally nothing but schtick.  Keegan’s “romance” with the hooker is far less tantalizing than the show clearly means it to be (one significant change from postponing the original pilot was that it suggested Mikki wanted to leave the life, while here Keegan is just a guy paying $500 an hour mostly to be teased), and his living with his buddy’s family and ADA wife feels like something out of a multi-camera sitcom.  The major subplot of this hour had Keegan meeting what appeared to be a perfect woman, beautiful and as much into gambling as he was, but since it needed to get rid of her by the end of the episode, it threw her into bed with Ben’s father, who promptly had a near-fatal stroke.

The only thing Rake really has in its favor is its cast.  It’s relying for all its life on Greg Kinnear’s charm, and he has plenty of that, but so far the scripts have him playing the same note over and over.  Similarly, Ortiz and Otto are very fine actors who are currently doing virtually nothing; the only actor who had anything to play this week was Zadegan, who had a moment of humanity when she panicked before a recommitment ceremony with Ben (and revealed she’d once briefly pined for the irresistible Keegan).

Rake got off to a seriously disappointing start in the ratings last week at 1.7 (losing almost half its American Idol lead-in), and it’s hard to see much potential for improvement unless there’s more substance somewhere in the next few episodes.  Despite all the talent involved (one of the series producers is Rescue Me‘s Peter Tolan, and several episodes have been directed by Sam Raimi), it’s a totally negligible hour of television.


PILOT + 1:  Not Nearly As Impressive As It Should Be


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."