Sunday, July 6, 2008

Raising the Bar - A By The Numbers Legal Drama

I managed to find a pre-air version of the pilot for Raising the Bar, a by the numbers new legal drama about oversexed young lawyers. It's sort of like Ally MacBeal only without the silly fantasy sequences, or a sense of humor, or a soul. It's not a particularly bad show but it is a very boring one.

I must confess that I came in with low expectations and perhaps that colors my opinion of the show. The only reason I wanted to check the show out was because of the presence of J. August Richards, AKA Charles Gunn from Angel. As a rule, I like to check out shows that feature Joss Whedon alumni. And there he is in a thankless role as a District Attorney with the hots for a hot blonde who's sleeping with an Idealistic Young Public Defender.

The show basically revolves around the idealistic young public defender and that's a shame because he's such walking, talking cliche. His unruly long hair is even more inappropriate for courtroom today than Ally MacBeal's mini-skirt was ten years ago. He exudes attitude and excels at getting himself thrown into jail along with his clients.

The most interesting character is Jane Kaczmarek who plays a judge that almost seems like a live-action version of Judge Harm, her character from The Simpsons. She's surly, bitter, cynical, and loves to hand out arbitrarily harsh judgments. In the pilot she presides over a case where the Idealistic Young Public Defender must get an innocent client off on a rape charge. She gives a the jury a very nuanced set of instructions which I find very interesting as you don't usually see judges doing that in TV legal dramas which tend to focus on the lawyers. Those jury instructions basically pave the way for the defendant to be found innocent of the rape but being a "hard ass," the judge still sentences him to seven years in jail on a weapons charge. She also throws the Idealistic Young Public Defender into jail when he protests the verdict.

Fortunately for the Idealistic Young Public Defender the judge also has a young boy toy (who is later revealed to be secretly gay) who gently reminds her that bad publicity from the case can hurt her political aspirations. He also kisses her on the neck just right....The Idealistic Young Public Defender and his client are quickly released from jail.

If this show revolved around Kaczmarek's brassy, cynical judge character, it might be worth watching. But as it is, it is a by the numbers legal drama populated with one-dimensional characters. We've seen this show done before and we've seen it done better.