Premiering tonight after "American Idol," the comedy-drama "Rake" stars Greg Kinnear as a lawyer who is skilled in the courtroom and a mess in his personal life. That's a TV trope going back to at least 1965 (Peter Falk in CBS's "The Trials of O'Brien"), and on through shows like "L.A. Law," "The Practice" and "Shannon's Deal" (a show I very much miss). Based on an Australian series, "Rake" does not really advance the form but it's somewhat watchable, and the premiere has some amusing moments.
Kinnear's character, Keegan Deane, is in hock to his bookie, homeless and wearing out his welcome as a guest of an old friend (John Ortiz) , unable to pay his assistant (Tara Summers), and scrounging for clients. Yet it appears that he can keep up his bar tab and still is a charmer to some women. He often sees clients as only a meal ticket -- although, in the premiere, his representing an accused serial killer (Peter Stormare) does at least momentarily lead him to put aside his amoral impulses to try to Do The Right Thing.
That's where "Rake" became iffy. Well, that and an ongoing plot involving fish, which has an uninspired end. A pilot shown to critics last summer was uglier, and Deane's situation grimmer, although I don't recall liking it much. While it may be a function of my turning softie in my old age, the more humorus, less-harm-done approach in tonight's episode seemed a little better. But I am not so soft that I don't see a he's-all-right-after-all payoff coming from a mile away.
"Rake" is like a lot of Kinnear performances; it seems as if something interesting is going on, until you take a closer look. Then you see some good moves, and a fair amount of charm, but it's all surface. And we've come to expect more and better from TV.