Raising the Bar -- an early look
by Kona Gallagher, posted Aug 26th 2008 1:00PM
TNT's original dramas are kind of hit or miss for me. I'm absolutely in love with The Closer, but have zero interest in Saving Grace, despite its good reviews and Holly Hunter's Emmy nomination. It was while I was watching The Closer that I saw the ads for Raising the Bar, TNT's newest series, which premieres on Monday, September 1 at 10 pm. I've got to say, I had the same reaction when I first saw promos for Saving Grace: "meh."
I love a good lawyer show, but there was something about Raising the Bar that just struck me as bland. I really didn't know if I'd even bother checking out the premiere. However, when I got the chance to see the first three episodes, I decided to jump on it. This way I could check it out at my leisure, but more importantly, I could figure out just what the hell is going on with Mark-Paul Gosselaar's hair.
Raising the Bar is one of those lawyer shows in which everyone on trial is innocent, or if they're guilty, they have a really good reason for it. Being a huge fan of Law & Order, it's weird to watch a series in which the New York DA's office is portrayed as a bunch of sleazy, "win at any price and ogle our colleagues' boobs"-type lawyers, but you know, different perspectives and all.
Although the DA's office is featured, it's mainly as a foil for the heroes of the show, the Public Defender's office. Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays Jerry Kellerman, the PD who just cares so much. He's brash, arrogant and doesn't have time for things such as clothes shopping or haircuts because his clients are innocent. His clients are so innocent and this fact affects him so deeply that within the first 20 minutes of the pilot he's holding a client's hand through his jail cell and crying with him over a plea bargain. Seriously.
Meanwhile, not all of the characters are downers. Bar scored a major coup by casting Malcom in the Middle's Jane Kaczmerek as Kellerman's nemesis, Judge Trudy Kessler. She's delightfully evil, and her relationship with her much younger and secretly gay law clerk, Charlie (Jonathan Scarfe), is the most intriguing storyline throughout the first three episodes.
A less-featured but still interesting relationship is that between Roz Whitman (Gloria Reuben), head of the PD's office, and her subordinate, Richard Woolsley (Teddy Sears). He's the token rich dude who turned down the Wall Street life to do good. He's also madly in love with Roz. His love is unrequited however, because as Roz says, "You work for me ... and you wear cuff links."
So here's the bad news: I don't know what the deal is with the pilot. I'm not sure if it was half-produced when the writers' strike hit, causing the script to be finished by a group of trained monkeys, or whether the budget was $5, or if Steven Bochco just has naked pictures of everyone involved, compelling them to do this, because it is bad. Like, "oh my God, why won't anybody tell Mark-Paul that a groundhog died on his head? Oh, probably because they're too distracted by the L.A. Law synthesizer music and scenery chewing that would embarrass William Shatner" bad.
The good news? It gets better. The second episode is leaps and bounds ahead of the pilot. It's still not great, but after we finished watching it, the general consensus went from "... the hell?" to "I'd watch that." The problem is, the third episode doesn't continue to get better. It's not as bad as the pilot; in fact it's perfectly passable. However, for a regular season show, it just doesn't cut it.
For a series that takes place in New York, there is nothing New York about it. It's so obvious that it's shot on a lot somewhere, that it's distracting. They don't even bother to paint backdrops, instead relying on frosted glass with colored lights to provide the "view" out of most of the windows. The only actual effort that they put into making this a New York show comes in the stock footage that comprises the scene transitions.
The writers also enjoy the contentious relationship between Kellerman and Kessler so much that the viewers are supposed to believe that he happens to be assigned to her courtroom for every case he tries. If you want to deal with one judge, then you set your show in Stuckeyville; you don't set it in a city with 8 million residents.
Raising the Bar needs to figure out what kind of show it is. Right now it's torn between the cases and the interpersonal relationships, to the point where they're both anemic. As I said before, it's a decent show as it is, but it just doesn't live up to its fall competition. If this premiered in the dead of summer, I'd probably DVR it. However, with a Labor Day premiere, I doubt I'll be catching the rest of the season.