The Three Strike Rule: “Raising the Bar”

Written by Television, The Three Strike Rule

JONATHAN SCARFE, JANE KACZMAREK, MARK-PAUL GOSSELAAR, GLORIA REUBEN, J. AUGUST RICHARDSSteven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) returns to the television landscape tonight at 10 PM EST with another lawyer series on TNT.

Raising the Bar focuses on the justice system through the eyes of the DA’s office and the public defenders office. Although wonderful actresses Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) and Gloria Reuben (ER) are on hand to add stature to the series, the real stars of the show are the young, good-looking actors playing young, good-looking lawyers. They’re led by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, the former teen star (do I even need to tell you?) who has a real “in” with Bochco, having appeared in Bochco’s NYPD Blue and Commander in Chief.

Gosselaar portrays Jerry Kellerman, a brash, idealistic public defender who is constantly butting heads with the justice system, primarily Kaczmarek’s off-kilter Judge Kessler (it is a bit strange that each case he has is assigned to Kessler).Reuben is Kellerman’s boss, although she only seems to appear when he needs advice.So far she has been wasted in her role.

As with most of Bochco’s series in the past, the draw of this show isn’t the issues, but the characters. Like I said, the cast members are good-looking thirtysomethings with enough charm and sex appeal to entice viewers back each week. In both tone and execution, Raising the Bar feels like a legal version of Grey’s Anatomy, especially in the manner in which all of these same lawyers seem to be good friends and hang out at the same watering hole after a long day at the job.Am I the only person who, when the work day is done, actually goes home to the wife and kids?I don’t know.

Despite the show’s familiarity, it isn’t bad; the acting is excellent, and the production values are top-notch. TNT has really become a destination place for producers to take shows that may not have caught on with the other 4 “big” networks. Additionally, TNT and its cable cousins seem to be more patient with a series, allowing it time to work out the kinks. Case in point: the pilot episode of Raising the Bar was pretty clunky, and almost made me not want to watch any more episodes. However, by the second episode, Kaczmarek’s antics were toned down and Gosselaar’s histrionics were kind of shoved out the window. This was a positive move for the show.

Of all the characters, the most intriguing, so far, is Jonathan Scarfe’s Charlie, Judge Kessler’s law clerk. Sticking with the show’s premise, he knows everyone on both sides of the law, and is friends with all of them. Charlie is working the judge (in more ways than one) to get himself in position behind the bench someday. At the same time, he does his best to help his friends (especially Kellerman, because, again, he seems to be the only lawyer in Kessler’s courtroom); he does all his maneuvering very slyly. Charlie also harbors a secret from his friends and boss: he is a closeted homosexual. Afraid that his sexual orientation would derail his career ambitions, Charlie slinks around at night trying to hook up. Scarfe’s portrayal of the conflicted Charlie is one of the most genuine performances on the show, and I’m interested to see where the producers take it.

Having seen the first three episodes, I would say TNT has a nice show on its hands. I’m not sure how it will fare in the ratings come the end of September, when everyone flocks back to NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, but this being the digital age, you don’t have to watch anything live anymore to be a fan.