Rake (US): reviews

2014-01-25_0106The first episode of the US version of Rake has now premiered on FOX.

Greg Kinnear plays Keegan “Key” Deane with Aussies Miranda Otto and Bojana Novakovic also featuring. It will screen in Australia on the Universal channel.

US critics seem impressed with Kinnear as a lovable rogue but there are a few reservations about the procedural elements and a sense of familiarity about the premise.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Los Angeles Times:
Kinnear does most of the show’s heavy lifting, but the universally fine cast gives him plenty of leverage, creating characters who know Key for exactly who he is and engage with him anyway. Consensual co-dependence does, after all, make the world go ’round. As the pilot makes clear, no one understands this better than Key. We meet him as he is chatting and laughing it up in a bar with Roy (Omar J. Dorsey). Who then takes him into the rest room and beats him up. Roy’s the muscle for the thug who holds Key’s chit, but he’s also a friend who is just doing his job. The trick to survival, in Key’s viewpoint anyway, is the ability to roll with the punches. Sometimes literally. Later in the episode, when his nervous son comes to a full stop on a freeway on-ramp, Key waxes philosophical. “Everyone gets into an accident sometime,” he says, turning his face to the sun. “You got yours out of the way early.” That nonjudgmental, easygoing charm is precisely why the people in Key’s life put up with him, and why viewers will be drawn to him. “Rake” may be the story of yet another anti-hero, but it’s difficult to remember one this likable.

New York Times:
“Rake” is more imaginative when depicting the slow-motion despair that sets in when a sure thing — a client’s payment, a royal flush, a football game — crumbles into dust. Keegan, who owes almost $60,000 to the kind of lender who doesn’t take i.o.u.s, keeps getting close to making a big score, only to watch it all fall apart. His friendship with Roy (Omar J. Dorsey), the thug who is tasked with collecting his debt, doesn’t prevent him from getting his face smashed in as a friendly warning. “Rake” was adapted from an Australian series that has the same name but a darker sensibility. This version is adjusted for American optimism: It’s a lighthearted look at a serious screw-up. And the first episode, at least, is surprisingly engaging. The writing is smart and the episodes well structured, but much of the credit goes to Mr. Kinnear, who maintains a veneer of charm without stinting on his character’s underlay of seedy desperation. Keegan is still winsome enough to attract beautiful women in bars, but in daylight, his boyish good looks, like his shirt collar and stalling tactics, are unmistakably creased and worn.

New Jersey News:
The pilot is carried on Kinnear’s rascally charm and is heavy on quirk. Fox had sent out a different, darker pilot in the fall, but decided to debut with tonight’s lighter episode, creator Peter Tolan (who co-created “Rescue Me” with Denis Leary) told critics at the winter Television Critics Association press tour, “just to get the audience comfortable with a guy who’s this much of a (bleep)-up, even though we have someone like Greg who makes being a (bleep)up charming.” Whether he will stay in our good graces as the season progresses is in question. A complex, fully fleshed-out anti-hero we can love, or learn to love; a shallow one had grow old really quickly. If you’re a fan of lightweight legal drama, I can’t render a verdict. The case in the pilot — a serial killer (the great Peter Stormare, “Fargo”) who suddenly refuses to plead guilty to yet another murder, saying his initial confession was coerced — seemed almost an afterthought. Grade: B

There are worse things to overdose on than charming scoundrels, and Kinnear is playing to his strengths as an ethics-challenged attorney getting by on fast talk and a grin. But while tonight’s first episode of Rake (the only one given critics, besides an earlier version of the pilot that was remade since last spring) is–well, rakishly–amusing, it’s not really enough to give a sense of what kind of show this will be, and whether it’s worth sticking with. On the one hand, it seems that Rake is a law procedural that’s not too fixated on being a great law procedural; Keegan’s first case, defending an accused serial killer, mostly takes a back seat to his financial, business, and family woes and the general introduction of his character. On the other hand, his character, while entertaining enough, isn’t the kind of magnetic draw that Hugh Laurie’s crabby genius immediately was in House. Nor is he yet compelling enough to sustain a serial appointment drama, as opposed to something you’d contentedly half-watch to while balancing your checkbook.

Although TV has no shortage of roguish ne’er-do-wells, they are seldom as entertaining — at least initially — as the protagonist in “Rake,” a lawyer/womanizer/compulsive gambler whose life is a runaway train wreck occasionally interrupted by high-profile, slightly bizarre cases. Alas, the quirky legal shenanigans that give the series, presumably, its procedural foundation are also the least interesting aspect of the show, which features Greg Kinnear’s comic abilities with a tone that perhaps most closely resembles CBS’ “The Good Wife.” Those qualities also make the program’s prospects difficult to read, which of course wouldn’t stop our fumbling hero from betting on it.

Hollywood Reporter:
As a dramedy, Rake doesn’t have much drama – the legal case in the pilot is given barely any thoroughness and, for a serial killer and police corruption case, that’s really saying something. Instead, the emphasis is on Kinnear’s wild side as he plays Keegan Deane (or Kee/Key as he’s called repeatedly). That wild side means that his drunkenness, womanizing and all-around unreliability is taking a toll on his best friend Ben (John Ortiz), and Ben’s wife Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), Assistant District Attorney for Los Angeles. Though Ben and Scarlet love Keegan dearly, they’re married, with children, responsible and have, as friends since law school, cooled on Keegan’s inability to grow up. But yes, in case you were wondering, they can’t resist him ultimately.

Huffington Post:
At times, “Rake” seems to be running from the fact that it is, actually, a law procedural. It works hard to cover that up with other bits of business, but why not just make the central case really interesting? Instead, we’re treated to a lot of gags involving a fish and one more serial killer narrative in a TV scene that reached peak capacity in that arena some time ago. Perhaps the law stuff doesn’t seem all that fresh because “Rake” is more interested in being a character study. Fair enough, but that aspect of the show features another set of tropes that have been nearly exhausted in the last decade and a half. Many TV narratives — some of them great — have asked the question, “Can the irresponsible/addictive/ troubled man see the light and become somewhat less thoughtless, self-sabotaging and selfish?” “Rake” isn’t terrible, but it has to be better than it is in its first hour to deserve a shot at answering that question, which has been answered so well on many other shows. Kinnear does what he can with Deane, but in the first hour, there’s not enough depth or texture to the fast-talking lawyer to make “Rake’s” somewhat frantic atmosphere worthwhile. I’ve seen my share of anti-heroes, and you, Keegan Deane, are no Don Draper.


  1. As usual the yanks stuff up a good show. The problem with the Americans is they think they have the ability to take the mickey out of themselves like the Aussie do and never pull it off. Americans are better at making fun of everyone else because they have a sense of entitlement and think their crap don’t smell.
    Greg Kinnear is a second rate actor at best and certainly cannot hold a candle to Richard Roxburgh. I will keep watching the original and let the yanks watch their crap version.

  2. Great reviews from a US perspective but as an Aussie i wasn’t impressed with what i saw. It wasn’t anything that made ABC’s series so great and i sort of agree with poss.

  3. I watched it and everything that makes the characters funny, charismatic, and totally flawed and yet loveable, at least in the australian series…….. is lost!

    The american one didn’t even start with the cannibal story?……. It is so sanitised and safe, its quite dull!

    Kinnear is not, in my opinion a great actor and is definitely not Roxburgh…….Roll on Feb 9!

  4. Good reviews, but a poor debut.

    Given shows always shed ground from their premieres, a debut rating of 1.7 means Rake’s chances of getting a 2nd season are practically nil.

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