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FOX (ended 2014)

It's been an almost unbearably busy January as far as new and returning television shows are concerned, but the month is not over—and neither is the barrage of TV. This week, Fox debuts a show it's been working on for a while now in the Greg Kinnear-starring Rake. The network is banking on its kinda-sorta high-profile star and showy source material to make Rake yet another in a long line of hit shows featuring misanthropic dudes. But is Rake actually worth watching? Well, that's the whole point of this story, so read on to find out!

Rake? Is this a half-baked Animation Domination show about an outdoor maintenance tool?

Believe it or not, Rake is not a Seth MacFarlane joint about a (probably racist) talking rake. Instead, it's a dramedy about a L.A. lawyer who doesn't have it together. He owes over $50,000 in gambling debts, has the IRS knocking on his door, can't pay his assistant, camps out on his friends' couch because his ex-wife kicked him out, and always manages to find his way into trouble. But don't worry, he's also cool and cunning in that slimeball leading man type of way. Also, his name is not Rake; the show's title is a nod to the historical character type, which defines a "rake" as "a man who is habituated to immoral conduct."

Who is Not-Rake and who decided not to name him Rake?

The show's lead character—his name is actually Keegan Deane—is embodied by the aforementioned Greg Kinnear, who's making his triumphant return to television after just ripping it up in feature films once he moved on from Talk Soup a couple decades ago. Kinnear is joined in the cast by Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the upcoming masterpiece I, Frankenstein) as Deane's shrink ex-wife, John Ortiz (Luck and two of the last three Fast and Furious films) and Necar Zadegan (24Emily Owens, M.D.) as his too-patient friends, Tara Summers (Ringer, Boston Legal) as his too-patient assistant, and Bojana Novakovic (Edge of Darkness) as a hooker with a heart of gold, or something. Rake is an adaptation of an Australian series of the same name and conceit, with the original creator Peter Duncan working on this version with Peter Tolan (Rescue Me). Sam Raimi (the first Spider-Man trilogy) directed the pilot. 

When does Rake rake its way into our lives?

Rake debuts this Thursday, January 23, at 9pm on Fox, after American Idol. The post-Idol spot used to be the easiest gateway to Nielsen ratings success, and even though that isn't so true anymore, Fox will be looking to recapture some of that glory... despite putting Rake up against Grey's Anatomy and CBS's relatively successful comedy block. The good news is that Grey's is on hiatus right now and CBS is running reruns in Rake's first week.

Who might enjoy playing in the leaves with Rake?

All my Kinnearheads out there are probably pretty hyped for this one (maybe we'll have a real-life Nurse Betty sitch on our hands). If you enjoy generally lighthearted shows about barely functional assholes who are occasionally brilliant at their jobs, you'll get a kick out of the show. Particularly if you liked the seasons of House where the lead character tried to "better himself," i.e. managed to stay a prick but smiled a bit more; if that's you, Rake is absolutely going to be your jam.

What seems functional about this particular Rake?

For all my jokes, there's a reason Kinnear chose this role for his return to TV (well, other than his slowed film career): It's going to give him a number of showy moments to play different emotional beats. And generally, he's pretty good at delivering in those moments in the first hour. He has the lovable cad stuff down pat already, and he wears glasses like a champ, so it's believable enough when Keegan Deane is supposed to look competent at his job as a defense attorney. This is one of those shows where you simply have to let go of certain logic, especially the fact that there's no reason ANYONE in this dude's life would put up with him in the way they do; if you can do that, Rake is solidly enjoyable. The supporting cast doesn't have much to do yet, as this is clearly a one-man show, but there's a nice balance between Keane's personal misfortunes and his work. If you're worried about the legal procedural story engine being an overwhelming presence, it doesn't appear to be an issue—Rake doesn't really care about cases. Sam Raimi won't be around to direct in the coming weeks, but the pilot looks good enough.

What about Rake makes you want to bury your head in a pile of leaves?

I mean, setting aside the fact that this is an adaptation, Rake is unbelievably derivative. Fox wants to replace that House-shaped void in your heart, and the pilot takes viewers through all those familiar paces pretty clearly. Although Kinnear is indeed charming, by the end of just one episode I was already a little tired of the character's schtick. He's not as fascinating a character as House was even after one episode, and that means that most of the time is spent with Kinnear hamming it up. That's fine for a few weeks, but I don't know if it's sustainable. 

And as I touched on above, Kinnear/Deane takes all the air out of the room for everyone else. Miranda Otto is supremely wasted, and everyone in the cast just stands around rolling their eyes at Deane until they eventually shrug off his behavior. For this show to work in the longterm, Peter Duncan and Peter Tolan will have to flesh out their supporting characters quite a bit. That's not an impossible task, but it'll probably be a difficult one to accomplish in Kinnear's big shadow.

Finally, Rake doesn't seem to have much to say. It's not even like Deane "learns" something substantive by the end of the opening hour, which is a boilerplate pilot move. In general, Rake is pretty celebratory toward its lead character's behavior. What's the point of that?

Okay, well should I even bother testing this Rake out in the yard?

Eh, probably—but with caution. I know I sound negative; that's because I'm thinking about the series longterm prospects. The first episode is entertaining enough, and as I said, Kinnear's work can probably carry Rake through some early bumps. It's definitely worth a DVR recording or a weekend stream online. But be on alert, because Rake could get repetitive pretty quickly.

Can I see a trailer to decide for myself?


Rake debuts Thursday, January 23, at 9pm on Fox.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/27/2014

Season 1 : Episode 13

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