I’ve never been a fan of shows focusing on the legal system, and I’m happy to tell you why. Much like medical shows, they tend to use a formula that almost always tugs at one’s heartstrings thematically, and, as such, I dislike feeling emotionally manipulated by a program. I’d rather watch something as a critic and maintain a respectable level of impartiality so that my examination of it isn’t ‘tainted’ by how it may (or may not) have made me feel.
RAKE – with all its highs and lows – is a bit different as it’s largely a comedy structured to indict the system – as well as the characters who partake of it – in a way that’s entirely infectious. If you haven’t seen it, then I’d encourage you to seek it out. I hadn’t seen its first season when I received this second season set, but ‘jumping on’ is pretty stress-free as most of the players and their relationships are easy to figure out for the uninitiated.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Australian criminal barrister Cleaver Greene (played with drunken moxie by Richard Roxburgh) lives a life of his own controlled chaos by representing criminal lowlifes – spouse killers, body choppers, traitors, whistleblowers, and the like – when no one else will. The problem is he’s good at it! And when he’s not on the stand, he’s quite possibly in engaging in behavior that would land him up there facing charges of his own. If he doesn’t mind his business, he’s liable to take a step once too far into territory that just might prove his inevitable undoing, provided he’s not off sleeping with someone else’s wife.
According to the production materials, Roxburgh and Peter Duncan created this program, so it’s understandable how and why the actor was drawn to the material. And he’s a delight in the role, whether he’s engaged in the lecherous seduction of a girl young enough to be his granddaughter or flirting with the spouse of his professional legal aide. The scripts are smart, bringing other characters into Greene’s wicked fold in surprising ways, and they continually force viewers to re-examine whatever moral convictions they thought upstanding people should display publicly and privately.
Episode 1: Greene defends a Muslim woman the court believes may’ve been involved in a terrorist act gone laughably wrong only to discover that she might not be as innocent as she seems. Episode 2: an old friend of Greene’s finds himself trapped in an act of civil disobedience that gets blown out of proportion while another friend struggles to correct an act of embezzlement from a popular children’s charity. Episode 3: Greene finds himself forced into defending two young film students who may’ve hatched the most curious murder plot imaginable. Episode 4: Greene’s former mistress – a prostitute – comes to ask him to defend her fiancé – a government whistleblower who’s being sought after by several nations. Episode 5: when his client is murdered, Greene will stop at nothing to uncover a conspiracy … even if none exists where he thinks one might. Episode 6: It’s a tale of big laughs when two male feuding neighbors end up losing their penises (literally) in an act of jealous revenge. Episode 7: Greene’s father passes away practically penniless, and Greene goes after the huckster he believes bilked the man out of his savings. Episode 8: Arrested for murder, Greene is surprised when all of his friends come to his defense, though it may not prove enough before all is said and done.
These episodes are mostly witty with quick, terse dialogue and some wonderful characterizations. There are moments when RAKE slows down a bit, and, in my opinion, it just doesn’t quite work as well; for example, episodes 4 and 5 deal with the government whistleblower and a broadening conspiracy, and, as much as I wanted it to work, it didn’t quite feel as solid as the other 6 hours. Still, there’s some nice dramatizations in there as Greene comes to grips with being true to himself (as bitter as that might be to those who love and know him best) or falling back into an earlier version of himself. Good for us that it doesn’t last, nor should it given the way the character is written.
IMDB.com appears to indicate that there is a third season of RAKE in the offing set for late in 2013. I’m not entirely certain how that could play out given the events in the final episode of this second season, but I’d definitely welcome a return to Roxburgh and his personal gallery of rogues. Objections overruled!
RAKE: SEASON 2 is produced by Essential Media & Entertainment, Blow by Blow Productions, Screen Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and Screen NSW. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through BFS Entertainment & Multimedia Limited. As for the technical specifications, this series looks and sounds terrific consistently throughout these eight episodes. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an English-speaking production, but as accents can be a bit difficult at times I, for one, like it when there are subtitle track available; unfortunately, there aren’t any here. And, sadly, there are no special features to speak of – would it have been too much to ask for a commentary or two? I’d imagine – given the subject matter – these could’ve been delightful.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Despite what some may tell you, RAKE isn’t perfect – there are a few episodes in this 8-episode run that play out a bit slowly for my tastes, and, not surprisingly, it’s when barrister Cleaver Greene is embracing a return to the idealistic days of his early career. Some of the developments during that phase just didn’t feel as authentic or as interesting as when he was “bucking the system” with greater merriment and frivolity. Still, the production quality and performances do remain high for this enjoyable ‘romp’ that upends the legal system quite nicely.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at BFS Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of RAKE: SEASON 2 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.