TV review: “Rake” eschews antihero tropes

By Columbus Alive
From the January 23, 2014 edition

Television has become overly-saturated with the antihero, but Fox’s new dramedy, “Rake,” doesn’t quite make its lead character Keegan “Kee” Deane (Greg Kinnear) into a full-on version of the trope.

Keegan is a criminal defense lawyer with obvious skills in the courtroom. He’s also a degenerate gambler, womanizer and excessive drinker. Yes, this all sounds like the stereotypical antihero — especially for network television — but the character comes off as something more positive.

Whether it’s Kinnear’s onscreen charm, the sense of honor and optimism written (and transferred by pilot director Sam Raimi) into the character, or just the general sad sack-ness of Keegan’s life, there’s something more pure and slightly more straight-up heroic in “Rake.”

If the show’s going to work over the long haul, Keegan needs to avoid the antihero hole at all costs. The darkness and negativity inherent in that type of protagonist wouldn’t fit within the world of this show. “Rake” isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it is genial and whimsical.

This aspect is clearly established in the opening minutes when Keegan casually converses with his bookie’s enforcer about the enforcer’s pregnant wife. Sure it’s followed by the enforcer slamming Keegan’s face into a wall, but the menace is far from palpable.

The remainder of the pilot has prostitutes, serial killers and police scandals, but there’s a lighthearted disposition about it all. Balancing the darker vice elements with a jovial quality makes “Rake” more appealing and interesting than it has any right to be. It’s a tightrope act that could completely fall apart in following episodes — especially given that Raimi won’t be directing those — but the pilot kind of works.

“Rake” isn’t groundbreaking — it’s basically a less jerkish and intelligent lawyer version of “House” crossed with Hank Moody from “Californication”— but it’s mildly entertaining. It could mainly be the performance by Kinnear, and only future episodes will tell.

For now, “Rake” is an entertaining, if completely safe pilot. I don’t know if “Rake” will ever become something more, but it should have an audience and deserves credit for eschewing the standard antihero tropes in favor of a simpler, more easy-going model.

Photo courtesy Fox