Rake Series Premiere Review: One Man Show

By Cory Barker

Jan 24, 2014

Rake S01E01: "Serial Killer"

It's always interesting when one of the TV season's most high-profile projects debuts later on the calendar. It feels like Rake has been in Fox's hopper for a long time, but that's mostly a byproduct of all the big names (Greg Kinnear, Peter Tolan, and Sam Raimi) attached. It was one of the most talked about projects during pilot season last year, only for Fox to save the series for midseason and an American Idol lead-in. Fox is definitely hoping that this one takes off like The Following did last January, and the network would probably even settle for it faring as well as Sleepy Hollow did in the fall. So even though I have some qualms with what I saw in "Serial Killer," I think Fox's call to hold Rake until now will pay off. This is going to be a nice little hit.

Well, let me modify that statement for a second. Greg Kinnear is not as big a star as Kevin Bacon is, but he's a recognizable face and more importantly, Rake is already giving him all sorts of middle-of-the-road fun material to work with. This opening episode—which was not the originally produced pilot—was fully powered by Kinnear's charming presence and his ability to tailor that charm to a variety of dramatic or comedic circumstances. His Keegan Deane is the kind of television character we're all used to seeing (and arguably a little tired of): a self-destructive cad who manages to bowl over his friends, family, and work associates to the point where they're almost fed up, but he's just brilliant and caring enough to keep them tethered to him. Although Fox's version of Rake is adapted from an acclaimed Australian show of the same name (and written by the same dude, Peter Duncan), "Serial Killer" presented us with a slew of relatively predictable and obvious moments. The highlight of the episode was Kinnear's execution of the character and his ability to make Deane both annoying and sympathetic. So, if people like Kinnear (which I think they do) and appreciate his work here (which I think I will), Rake will be around for a bit.

As a starting point, "Serial Killer" mostly successfully established Keegan as someone who's worth following on a week-to-week basis. The decision to focus on his dysfunctional personal life and how it bleeds into his work was a smart one. It gave Kinnear a lot of different shades to play, but also emphasized just how deep under water Keegan is. Maybe the show laid it on a little too thick with his relationship with a hooker, but I'm willing to see where that goes. Most of all, the episode never took itself too seriously, which is a big plus with shows like this. The transition between "Oh, he's such a loveable dirtbag!" and "Okay, now this is REAL" can be jarring, even on great versions of this kind of show like House, but "Serial Killer" clearly recognized Keegan's screw-ups and didn't try to teach him anything. Though I'm not sure how that will play out to keep the show sustainable in the long run, it worked well enough in this first episode.

But while I think Kinnear did a really good job of bringing Deane to life, "Serial Killer" was also so reliant on him that there was barely air in the room for other cast members and characters. Miranda Otto , John Ortiz, Necar Zadegan , and Tara Summers have all been good to very good in other shows and movies, and here, they don't even have the opportunity to act. Well, unless you count the scowling and eye-rolling they did as their characters responded to Deane's often frustrating and sometimes ridiculous behavior. Otto's brief presence as Keegan's ex-wife Maddy gave the episode a brief jolt in the arm, but it was oh so brief. At least Maddy seemed to be willing to call Keegan on his behavior, which is something that was generally lacking with everyone else. I understand that this is the show; Keegan is going to misbehave, tick people off, and eventually do a few things to win back the hearts of his friends and family. But those characters will need to develop pretty substantially in the next few weeks so that Rake can find other stories to tell—or at least a few variations of the primary story. 

The one performer who seemed able to pull attention away from Kinnear was Peter Stormare, who played the titular serial killer. If the first episode is any indication, Rake is not going to be too concerned with delivering Good Wife-level legal maneuvering each week, but the give-and-take between Stormare's Jack Tarrant and Keegan had a playful comedic rhythm. Forcing Keagan to deal with a client who could be both the manipulator and the manipulatee was a nice strategy to develop the character's professional acumen. It's fine that Keegan is eventually going to ruin every aspect of his life, but we also need to know that he's at least decent at his job from time to time. It appears the show's episode order is already screwy (this one was technically 102, but we'll never see 101, and next week brings 104), but I hope Stormare and Tarrant return sooner rather than later. He's a welcome presence and a sign that the show can, in fact, bring other characters to life.

Rake has some work to do to be a must-watch, particularly as far as its supporting characters go, but this episode proved that a lot of Kinnear charm can go a long way.


– All the press materials for Rake mentions the IRS coming after Keegan as well, but I don't remember seeing any inkling of that here. I'm guessing that it was cut in the transition to the new "pilot," and we'll see in the coming weeks. 

– Keegan has a son (played by Ian Colletti), and their relationship is about as boring as you might expect. 

– Sam Raimi directed this episode, but there wasn't anything especially GREAT about it visually. Get those checks though, Sam!

What'd you guys think of Rake's first episode? Will you keep watching?

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  • MarlboroMagpi Feb 14, 2014

    4 episode in and I am still loving it. Risking backlash from Blacklist fans, I am loving it now more than Blacklist.

  • paris_slim Jan 26, 2014

    I'd suggest that the main character needs to get beat up every 5 minutes or so, that would make the show a pleasure to watch. This guy acts like the people Walter White took care of admirably in Breaking Bad. The entire 20 minutes I could stand was only hoping he'd get slapped around again.
    What could possibly be endearing about this guy? At least House saw challenges and rose to them. The comparison to House is an insult to that show.

  • marlonjones Jan 26, 2014

    I love laywer shows! With a passion!
    And it looks like we have another winner here. I'm gonna look foward to this show and Kinnear's excellence every single week!

  • ToddMurray Jan 26, 2014

    One and done for me, too. I like Greg Kinnear, but don't like the character. His behavior and all the things that kept happening to him were both ridiculous. I loved his assistant, but there's nothing redeeming about Rake that would keep me watching past this one.

  • CherokeeRose4 Jan 25, 2014

    In short, I'm still undecided about this. I was interested in some aspects and bored to tears in others, checking to see how much time was left in the episode. I enjoyed Greg Kinnear's performance for a guy whose personal life is a total mess but seems to be a competent lawyer. And, as always, Peter Stormare was fun to watch.

    I'll give the show one more episode or two but right now I'm lukewarm.

  • Rykros Jan 24, 2014

    Oh, Cory, Cory, Cory... as I write this to you while taking of burn of this sweet hybrid, I can only shake my head at how much we disagree.

    I was with you, a glass of scotch, neat, in my hands, commiserating the fall of a once promising show called Dexter, wailing with the truth of each review! But this show... besides Stormare and Kinnear, was full of caricatures, from its characters to its situations.

    By the time the gangster crashed their family dinner night (also, he just left his $15K stinking up some cop's car and now without money and clearly in danger, he goes to eat with his buddy and laugh with their kids? WHAAAT?), openly threatens him and is clearly intent to take his life if not his money, then decides to STAY FOR DINNER? The show didn't Burn Notice me enough to say "Hey, we're unrealistically goofy at times" and have me believe it. Anyway, by that time I was playing Candy Crush Saga. I HATE Candy Crush Saga! It never ends!

    Also, the prostitute scene was a film school thesis reject. It was painful to watch. That is all. I'm sorry for getting intense, but Berry White does strange things to you.

  • CherokeeRose4 Jan 25, 2014

    The fish was actually not worth $15K anymore, it was knocked down to $3K so he probably figured why not just keep it and cook it instead.

  • stofeu Jan 24, 2014

    to quote 1D: "and we slept one hour to the worst show ever" sorry Cory I usually agree with your reviews but that's all I gotta say 'bout this snooze fest!! peace everyone

  • Gem-n-eye Jan 24, 2014

    Sleepy Hallow was great, can't wait for next season.

  • ale00928 Jan 24, 2014

    Cory, thank you for this review. I was not aware of this show at all. But I like a lot Greg Kinnear, who is by the way a great charming actor. See MATADOR, or LITTLE MISS SHUNSHINE to mention some good movies he appears. So I am going to give this a try with an open positive attitude ;)

  • stofeu Jan 24, 2014

    As far as I'm concerned, I couldn't agree less with this review, this "pilot" was one of the most boring thing I've ever seen on tv & I watch TONS of tv shows, this show's the ultimate snooze fest, I barely made it to the ending credits, I strongly recommend you to walk the other way & go for a walk with friends if you've one hour to spare ^^

  • ale00928 Jan 24, 2014

    Let´s´wait and see what other people say first. As for the park, I live in a place where is now all cover with snow, about 10 degrees C bellow zero, so park is not so easy that right now, but a walk in the fresh snow it is ;)

  • stofeu Jan 24, 2014

    Enjoy the snow for me since in France there ain't that much snow atm, but I'm not complaining cuz I hate driving on snowy roads!

  • Watashii Jan 24, 2014

    I was honestly disappointed. It was too comical which I guess was suppose to be the point. I was expecting an actual lawyer show with interesting cases, but it just another show about a man with a messed up life. And not even a character that I feel sorry for. How the case was figured out with the patterns in writing wasn't interesting or smart. House's diagnoses were made to seem brilliant. Keegan is not a House/Sherlock character. Far from it.

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