It’s been a while since ABC Drama has had a true hit.
Is Cleaver Greene the man to turn its fortunes around?
Rake is a symbolic move on the part of the national broadcaster. The 8-part series represents a renewed push to produce contemporary Australian stories and has won a brash Thursday primetime slot.
Set in Sydney, Rake is an offbeat drama spearheaded by the dynamic Richard Roxburgh as a barrister whose personal life is in disarray, contrasted by his success on the courtroom floor.
As a man Greene is rudderless. There are prostitutes, cocaine dealers, the ATO on his back, playing part-time dad to the teenage son from his former marriage and being late with child support.
He is snarly, condescending, untrustworthy, given to excess and temptation. This is a bloke who attracts trouble…. when he isn’t dreaming or indulging.
He confides in his call girl Missy (Adrienne Pickering), in sessions that are all-too-brief to soothe his many personal grievances.
“This economic climate is turning every decent bender in this town into a reptile. First my bookie, now my brothel keeper. 12,000 years I’ve been coming to this place. You think I would have accrued some frequent f***er points by now…” he complains.
Greene is also an ardent champion of hopeless cases.
His current case involves a Professor facing a murder charge after advertising on the internet for a dinner date willing to be consumed. Hugo Weaving plays a cannibal claiming his victim committed suicide. No doubt based on a infamous crime in Germany in 2001, the case is one that Greene is determined to win, despite the disgust of those in his own law firm.
At a dinner party with friends, Greene is able to defend his ethics, which he says sees him win his cases “only 51%” of the time.
“The very reason I get lowlife crooks off is because I care about the law. It’s justice I don’t give a toss about,” he says.
Unlike the eccentric cases that were featured in legal dramas LA Law and Boston Legal, Rake doesn’t have its tongue in its cheek. Instead it is played straight with the reckless Greene providing the colourful extremes.
The supporting cast is solid with restrained performances by those appearing as colleagues, family and friends. Geoff Morrell is terrific as a NSW Attorney-General under fire for hiring the cannibal Professor as an economic consultant. He upholds a line in public but is frank with Greene when he exits a brothel at the same time.
The show has also attracted a stellar guest cast with A-list names. Hugo Weaving is downright spooky as the man who sees no crime in eating his fellow man, and is more concerned that his wife (Sacha Horler) is disappointed with him. If we get performances this good every week it will be worth tuning in for those alone.
Greene shows early signs of a cavalier attitude to women (whether as conquests, workmates or even reporters on the telly), while the script by director Peter Duncan is yet to carve out some female characters who will stand outside of Greene’s shadow.
Scarlett (Danielle Cormack), the wife of his best friend Barney (Russell Dykstra), goes as far as to say, “I’m a woman. I internalise everything until I explode.”
There is a suggestion that Greene could become romantically involved with her.
That Greene is flawed is a dramatic attribute. That he is so unlikeable is rather more concerning. Television is rarely embracing of those we do not like, but if we are fascinated by what makes them tick there is a way forward. There can certainly be no charges that he is one-dimensional.
Roxburgh revels in a charismatic, if sometimes dark, role. He is also a co-producer and co-creator of the piece.
Rake is a step in the right direction for ABC Drama, and a change from the many procedural dramas that dominate our screen. It’s nice to have a drama led by character rather than plot. This is a show that seeks a considered viewer, prepared to entertain an imperfect cavalcade of characters and the many facades of Sin City.
Now the verdict lays with the audience.
Rake airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.