Reviews

'Rake: Series 1' Is Charmingly Raising the Bar of Legal Dramas

Rake is a bit of a mixed bag. It's a straightforward legal drama; a sly comedy; a self-effacing portrait of love, loyalty and family; a cheeky send-up of the eternally adolescent middle-aged male psyche and just simple, relaxing fun.


Rake: Series 1

Distributor: BFS
Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Matt Day, Russell Dykstra, Adrienne Pickering, Caroline Brazier
Release date: 2012-06-12
Amazon

Hollywood has a unique way of expressing its admiration for entertainment made beyond its shores. It applauds the original and creative work of international artists, but feels no need whatsoever to distribute it domestically. Hollywood is far more interested in the dark arts of acquisition and appropriation. Of course, this is just straightforward business – logical and obvious. Yet, from a fan’s point of view it's disappointing that we Americans get to see so few original foreign programs.

It's hardly an excuse, but it's easy to imagine why American audiences have only a vague understanding of international film and television. The disparity between the entertainment programs we export and the media we import (most often for adaptation) is so disproportionate as to be utterly ridiculous. Hollywood all but says, ‘we will hire your writers, use your directors and makes stars of your actors but, really, we just have no need to see your shows.’

There has always been a tacit embargo on what American audiences get to see of the world. That many shows, which end up on our television screens, originated from abroad is hardly new. Television executives have long mined the troves of reality programs and game shows from the UK and Western Europe (Pop Idol, Big Brother, etc.). Only recently, however, has Hollywood looked abroad as a source of inspiration for scripted dramas and comedies. The list is growing rather long but a few examples include: Showtime’s Homeland and HBO’s In Treatment, which were both originally Israeli productions; AMC’s The Killing hailed from Denmark and ABC’s Ugly Betty started out as a Colombian telenovela.

Successful US remakes of foreign television shows lags far behind the colossal list of failures. For every success, like the The Office, there are countless casualties like Coupling and Kath and Kim. Naturally, television is designed to be more provincial than cinema. We sit and watch programs at home before going to bed or rise to work and don’t really want to go to far afield. Movies tend to be acts of intentional escapism; television is a comfortable companion that we prefer blend in with the rest of our furniture at home.

One of the great walls felled by digital technology over the last several years is the breakdown in distribution barriers for audiences that want to watch foreign films and television programs. The computer is now many people’s primary entertainment screen, and Hollywood has conceded this point by distributing more original programming from international markets. The audience is the clear winner in this transformation, as we now get to see so much more than ever before. Finally, American viewers are catching up with the truth that there are many great television shows and movies that don’t come exclusively from Hollywood’s back lot.

One recent television show to finally cross the seas into America is Rake, the highly successful Australian series starring Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge, Mission Impossible II). Rake is, admittedly, a bit of a mixed bag. It's a straightforward legal drama; a sly comedy; a self-effacing portrait of love, loyalty and family; a cheeky send-up of the eternally adolescent middle-aged male psyche and just simple, relaxing fun. Like the show’s protagonist Rake is brash, unrepentant, and dazzled by the spectacle of its own polished charisma. The show’s pace can sometimes suffer from such indecision and self-consciousness, but the writing and acting are uniformly strong and save Rake from veering too far off track.

Richard Roxburgh plays Cleaver Greene, a Sydney defense barrister whose personal life is exceedingly more complicated than any of his law cases. His teenage son is dating his high-school teacher, he’s not quite over his ex-wife, he’s just slept with his best friend’s wife and he is hopelessly (genuinely) in love with a former high-class prostitute turned recent law student.

Cleaver is a brilliant, but deeply flawed, egoist who cannot resist most of life’s great temptations: women, drugs and gambling. He seems to be in perpetual motion, whether running from tax-evasion charges, his local bookies or the endless stream of women in his life. That he manages to be a superb lawyer who skillfully defends drug dealers, bigamists and murders is no small feat, but he thrives on the energy of attacking the most hopeless cases (and people) head-on. As a barrister he is not above (or below) questionable tactics. As he says, he cares about the law – not justice.

Richard Roxburgh is a thoroughly compelling actor whose skill can sometimes be overlooked and dismissed by the force of his own engagement. Though often cast as the wily, smarmy charmer (e.g., Moulin Rouge) it's too simple to dismiss him as such. He is an intelligent, kinetic, impulsive, constantly engaging and dynamic actor who feels no compulsion to have his audience like him. Greene’s rationalizations are selfish, contradictory and morally dubious but Roxburgh manages to convey the internal complexity of a man lost on the road to redemption by the cloudy authenticity of his own emotions.

The line between smarm and charm may be gossamer thin. Roxburgh, however, as Cleaver Greene, is balletic in his performance; mastering an agility to race right up to that line (of smarm) and, then, adroitly shift his balance to walk away leaving audiences amazed and reverberating in afterglow of his charm and talent.

Truth be told, there is nothing especially groundbreaking about Rake. It's a well-polished bit of entertainment crafted by a smart and accomplished creative team. Co-developed by Roxburgh and Peter Duncan (Children of the Revolution), Rake quietly dazzles with its sharp writing and subtle performances (most especially by Russell Dykstra, Adrienne Pickering and Matt Day). A host of cameos by many of Australia’s most noted actors (Hugo Weaving, Noah Taylor, Sam Neill, Rachel Griffiths, Martin Henderson) also inject the series with a delicious taste of fun.

Rake, an engaging television series that would easily fit on any of the main US network’s primetime schedules. In fact, Hollywood executives quickly recognized the commercial viability of Rake and an American adaptation has been optioned with Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine, As Good as It Gets) set to star. The American version of Rake may turn out to be wonderful, perhaps even surpassing the original. However, I would highly recommend seeking out the original series on DVD before being served its New World remake on broadcast or cable television.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image