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Greg Kinnear, right, says Rake is darker than many U.S. network dramas that contain many ‘teachable moments.’
Greg Kinnear, right, says Rake is darker than many U.S. network dramas that contain many ‘teachable moments.’

John Doyle

Rake: a messy new show about a mess of a man Add to ...

Funny story from here. It’s about Rake.

The show (starts Thursday on Fox, Global, 9 p.m.), a rejigged version of an Australian drama of the same name, is about a lawyer (Greg Kinnear), who is an utter mess of a man. Wine-women-and-song kinda guy. Always in trouble. But brilliant in the courtroom, and devoted to standing up for the little guy and the wrongfully accused.

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It’s a hard show to assess, so let’s go with the funny story.

One of the executive producers is the veteran Peter Tolan. He’s worked on great shows as a producer and writer – from The Larry Sanders Show on HBO to Rescue Me on FX. Tolan is a wag and was asked about the difference between working on cable series and working in network shows. He had an answer to illustrate how relentlessly showbiz-silly network TV can be. He said he’d kept a diary, pulled a notebook from his pocket and began to read.

“Sept. 16, first day of shooting for Rake. Kinnear showed up drunk with a hooker named Tammy on his arm claiming it was part of his process. After the first shot, he demanded we give Tammy a producer credit. Rather than upset him, we agreed, but her pimp pushed for co-executive producer, so now she’s a [swear word] co-EP. Sept. 20, call from Kevin Reilly [head of Fox network]. He feels Rake will be a better fit on Fox if one of our main characters has no head.

“Oct. 11, Tammy is no longer with us. She sold her first pitch to ABC, an hour drama called Maniacal, Murdering Whores. Oct. 25, why is Lena Dunham naked all the time on Girls. I don’t get it.”

After the laughter died down, the matter of Rake’s viability as a hit, quality drama came up.

Tolan said Fox’s Reilly is backing the show’s attempt to be outrageous in a way that networks rarely allow. “Kevin’s belief is that his audience is ready for us to present something that has boundaries that are much broader than other networks could, and he has the belief that we don’t need to be blowing things up every five minutes, that they can be character-driven.”

The main character in Rake, Kinnear’s Keegan Deane, is very charming, but some illustrative point is being made – he’s a white, middle-aged lawyer who really doesn’t have much going for him, apart from his charm and occasional smarts. He’s articulate and bright but that gets him nowhere when he owes money to a bookie. He has no place to live and people tell him to get lost when he inquires about crashing on their couch. His girlfriend’s indeed a hooker, his assistant is looking at deportation and his ex-wife is in a permanent state of anger with him. The point is, you’d cross the street to avoid this guy.

Yet in court, and with a tricky case on his hands, he turns that brittle charm into brilliant legal arguments. The show’s tone shifts, awkwardly. What was an adult show about a wrecked, self-destructive man morphs into a stand-up-and-cheer tale of righting terrible wrongs.

There’s an echo of House in Rake. Keegan Deane is rather like Dr. House gone to seed, an irritating man who balances his awfulness by being brilliant. But Kinnear says the series isn’t full of those nice “teachable moments” you get in many network dramas. He says it’s darker than that.

“It’s not just him being a lawyer with a heart of gold, there are a lot of episodes where he learns nothing. He makes sizable mistakes as we go forward and recognizes those. He is, for the most part, brilliant at some aspect of his life, in spite of all the other self-destructive mechanisms. And what appealed to me was that kind of mix. Peter and I, we were talking about that American network sensibility, and I was like, ‘Well, Peter, what does he learn? What does this man learn each episode?’ And Peter said, ‘Not a lot.’”

That sounds hopeful for Rake’s progress as a drama with real bite. But it remains to be seen. The pilot airing Thursday is a tad muddled. The critics here were unsure about the show. So Tolan was asked, jokingly, what had happened to the Tammy mentioned in his diary.

“Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen to Tammy. I’m concerned for her,” he replied. “She’s signed with CAA [Creative Arts Agency, which reps a lot of Hollywood superstars], and I said, ‘Tammy, you’re just gonna be one whore among many. That’s gonna be a problem. You wanna be somewhere where you stand out.’”

Be warned – this was funnier than the funny parts of Rake.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow me on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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