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?
AIRED ON 4/5/2014
Season 1 : Episode 12