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27 August 2008 @ 09:47 am
Review: Raising The Bar  
Because the pilot for Fringe is being reworked, I'm going to save my review until the new one is out. I'm hoping they will fix a lot of the issues I had with it. So until then, I present Raising The Bar.

I should start this review out not by singing the praises of Stephen Bochco because to be honest, enough people do that for him to begin with. No, this review begins with a confession of sorts. I’ve always been very loyal to actors, producers, and writers that I think do a good job. And while I think Bochco’s work speaks for itself (NYPD Blue, Doogie Howser, M.D., Hill Street Blues), there are two reasons I tuned into Raising The Bar. They very obvious one of J. August Richards, a man that I fell in love with during his run on Angel, despite what a horrible stereotype his character was.

And the second one might surprise you. If you are anyone but Nikki.


Mark-Paul Gosselaar. As a girl, I would buy up BOP and Tiger Beats by the truckload, ripping out the mini posters of Gosselaar’s resident high school king, Zach Morris. I’ll never forget that I had them taped all over my wall and I wrote fan letters. I was a young naïve girl who thought all high schools were like Bayside and there was a Zach Morris out there for me. I knew all the songs from Zach Attack and would sing them loudly, frequently, causing my parents to cringe in horror. But considering that this boy was about as non-threatening as they come, my parents allowed it.

How far you have sunk, Mr. Morris.

Say hello to Gosselaar’s new character, Public Defender Jerry Kellerman. Kellerman is known for his crumpled cheap suits, his disheveled appearance (his boss tells him to shave at one point), and his total belief that his client is innocent. Kellerman is a loose cannon, having seemingly already pissed off every single judge that he has to come before. When one case brings him before Judge Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek), it’s clear these two have had run-ins before and this case will be no different.

Speaking of Jane Kaczmarek, as Malcolm’s mom Lois on Malcolm in the Middle, she was entertaining and funny. She reminded me of the mom of some of my friends, hard working, married to a somewhat dim man, trying to do the best with what she had. But her role on Raising The Bar is no different than that on Malcolm. It is as if after the series ended, Lois went to law school, changed her name, and worked her way up to being a judge. There is no difference in the “I’m right, you’re smaller than me, you will do what I say attitude” from Judge Kessler and Lois. I feel like someone was watching her turn as Judge Constance Harm on The Simpsons and pulling their characterization from that as well. I half wondered if she was going to sentence Jerry to being handcuffed to his client after he spoke out in the man’s defense.

Since I’ve already laid out the two major characters of this first episode, it’s probably a good idea to let you know what these series is about. If the talk of public defenders and judges didn’t tip you off, it’s another semi-procedural. Since I only had access to the first episode, it’s hard for me to tell if this is going to be a case of the week. Admittedly, I don’t watch Law and Order because most of the time, what kills these shows is too much time in the courtroom. If I wanted to watch Court TV, I would switch the channel over.

Which is one of the major problems of Raising The Bar. Bochco tries very hard to overcome the stuck in the courtroom all day feel of most shows about public defenders, DAs, and judges. But he falls flat. Introducing so many characters in a first episode doesn’t give any of them much screen time to get the audience hooked. The only interesting part of the show was the last three minutes. We find out more about the characters from one of my most hated television devices, the musical montage, than we do from most of the rest of the show.

Now on to why most people are reading this review, J. August Richards. I have to give the guy some serious kudos for taking on yet another role as a lawyer after Conviction was cancelled. Not just any lawyer, another DA part. The good thing about this part is that it uses a lot of Richards’ natural charm. Long gone are the ghetto affectations from Angel that seemed to carry even into season 5. Richards’ DA seems, much like his previous role, to want to do the good thing. But he knows how to play to game. I don’t want to give too much of the actual plot of the episode away but it seems that after years of putting scum behind bars, he isn’t as jaded as some of the others in his office. When he sees an innocent man, he wants him to go free, even if it means go around the big bosses.

The rest of the cast is rounded out nicely. It is nice to see a show taking place in a large urban city actually having people of color in positions of power. It would be nice to see some Latino faces, however but again, it’s only the first episode.

What I think this show has going for it is the plots of the people outside of the courtroom. All the DAs and public defenders are friends outside of work, whether it’s from working long hours against each other in a courtroom or because they went to the same law school. Either way, they get together for drinks regardless of the outcome of their classes. That is what is going to save this show. Most people have seen courtroom dramas, they know the cases, and to capture an audience that is more interested in the characters than the case of the week, Bochco is going to have to work on this part of the series. It’s hard to care about them when little is known about the characters in that first episode.

As far as direction goes, it’s very bright, even in the jail scenes. That is something I can appreciate. It is nice to see what is actually going on rather than trying to adjust the brightness on my television. Most of the shots are done well and it feels like a big budget stylized drama, which it very well might be.

I think with a bit of tweaking, TNT could have a solid piece on their hands. They just need less time in the courtroom on the actual cases and more time on the characters. It would also be nice, if they are going to keep it as mostly about cases, is other cases by the public defenders that aren’t Kellerman. With such a great ensemble cast, it would be a crime not to use them. And admittedly, that is what Bochco does best, taking what appears to be a procedural show about doctors, cops, lawyers, and creating some of the most amazing characters and plots that don't center on their jobs. There are some interesting subplots that I can’t wait to see explored further.

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Khyri: Spa Daykhyri on August 27th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Ah, Gunn. I can't say I cared for the character or the actor, TBH - but it takes all sorts. I might check this out, anyway.
Kelly: Review Timexlivvielockex on November 11th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
I really like the actor, Gunn as the character, not so much. But I've only been able to catch a few episodes isnce this review and despite my love for JAR, I haven't been tuning in.
ashmhashmh on August 27th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
I'm happy to see that J. August Richards has a new show. I've never cared for the way his character - Charles Gunn - was handled on "ANGEL", or how his character was perceived.

Kelly: Review Timexlivvielockex on November 11th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Sorry it took me so long to reply! But I am with you 100% on Gunn as a character. He was very much a stereotype and so many of his storylines only help to reinforce those stereotypes. They could have done so much more with him and I know the actor could have carried it.
Nikki: ats: cordy no biting!nikkiwawa79 on August 27th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
Very cool, review! I was worried because in some places, a lot of people ripped the pilot apart. However, it's a pilot and most of the time, pilots aren't good. It's a semi-stepping stone. Which is why I don't completely turn down a show on the pilot. I wait to watch the second or third episodes to make a final decision.

Looks like Mark Paul plays a Zack Morris version of a PD, huh? I don't mind that. I'm so with you on the Bop, and Tiger Beat. My wall was covered with Zack Morris and Dylan McKay...was that TMI? ;D

I love your introduction to these three characters. I adore JAR and always liked Gunn, so it's good that he gets to use his natural un-ghetto charm(not that Gunn's ghettoness was bad but...you know what I mean). His character sounds confident and determined. I like that, too.

I'll definitely check this out! It starts Monday @ 10 right?

We find out more about the characters from one of my most hated television devices, the musical montage, than we do from most of the rest of the show.

I HATE THE MUSICAL MONTAGE!
Kelly: Review Timexlivvielockex on November 11th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC)
Did you end up checking it out? I caught the first few episodes and the rest are still on my HD for viewing. I just have to be in the mood for those kind of courtroom dramas and I've been leaning more towards the dramedies lately. I need some laughter in my shows!