[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"Rake" (FOX)
Airs:Thursdays at 9 p.m. at Midseason
The Pitch: "House, JD"
Quick Response: It's hard to figure the exact percentage of the early appeal of "House" that rested on Hugh Laurie, but I think that "Rake" requires at least as much of star Greg Kinnear, who is playing a lawyer wacky enough for a David E. Kelley dramedy, but also screwed up enough for something much darker. We're introduced to Kinnear's character asking a hooker to perform oral surgery on him (not in a sexy way) and the show dives deep into the muck to introduces us to his world of seedy clients -- Denis O'Hare is a hoot in a role that I'd wager will become the "Rake" equivalent of Dylan Baker's constantly-in-trouble character on "The Good Wife" -- cross-dressing pimps, amiable henchmen, probably racially problematic associates and potentially dangerous adversaries. After only one viewing, I'd say that Sam Raimi's directing efforts on the pilot are surprisingly anonymous on an aesthetic level -- This isn't like the terrifically distinctive work Bryan Singer did on the "House" pilot -- but in the place of pyrotechnics, Raimi does something more important for the long-term future of "Rake": He sets the tone of the universe and the tone feels like a good piece of comedy-infused hard-boiled fiction, not quite on the level of an Elmore Leonard or a George Pelecanos or a Dennis Lehane (when those guys are trying to be funny), but in that aspirational range. So I'm relatively able to ignore that Kinnear's character only sometimes seems as charming or as brilliant as people keep suggesting he is. I'm relatively able to overlook that there are a lot of "types" among the supporting characters, but no fully developed characters. And I'm not appreciably worried that the legal shenanigans in the pilot are wicked silly and unbelievable. Liking Kinnear helps a lot in ignoring those failings and he does what is asked, starting by over-accentuating the goofy side of his character, but then showcasing the self-destructive side that makes this guy suited for an hour-long drama-type-thing rather than a comedy. This could almost be an FX show, which I mean in a good way. By the end, I was actually surprised by how the story had pulled me in and how involved I became. But boy oh boy they're gonna have to make better use of Miranda Otto and John Ortiz and the rest of the supporting cast as the show progresses. The pilot is close to a one-man show, with other objects just ricocheting off of Greg Kinnear. And it's not like Greg Kinnear is universally loved.
Desire To Watch Again: It's not there yet, but of all of the network pilots I watched this year, "Rake" is perhaps the one with the greatest upside, because I really can see how it could become another "House" or how it could come to feel like a West Coast spin-off from "The Good Wife." Other than "S.H.I.E.L.D." (and, I guess, "The Originals," which doesn't count) "Rake" is the drama that I can most easily imagine myself watching every week. "American Idol" has no drawing power anymore, but I still like that FOX is *trying* to give "Rake" a launching pad, because I might want this one to stick around.

 

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All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries