Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“Raising The Bar” Takes It Up A Notch

All photos from TNT

Last September, I wrote a review of ”Raising The Bar” (TNT) that was less than flattering. Now, several episodes and a new season later, I’d like to set the record straight – I think I now like the show.

When ”Raising The Bar” (TNT) started its first season, I felt the show was too forced and too much like every other legal drama out there. I also felt it was very similar to Dick Wolf’s show “Conviction” which was a Law & Order-like show with young lawyers and their young lawyer lives (in other words, shallow).

After not watching “Raising the Bar” and then picking it up later in the year in reruns, something happened. The show grew on me. The characters grew on me. The stories, which were still slightly repetitive in theme, seemed to become a little more complex, along with the characters. It seemed that a show about the selfless public defenders as they battle the nasty prosecutors may have promise.

Now, with the start of the new season last week, the characters are better established, allowing them a little more latitude in where they can take them. Last week, public defender Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) got a much needed haircut, making him look much more professional. It had a marked affect on his case, giving him instant credibility with the jury. It also seemed to have helped Jerry to grow up a bit, while still keeping his desire and passion to fight for the little guy.

This week’s episode, “Rules of Engagement” involves Jerry and prosecutor Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller) having to go before a new judge, Judge Farnsworth (John Michael Higgins). This new judge has a rulebook of his own, including carrying a gun into the courtroom, which he does not hesitate to point at a defendant wielding a chair at him. The judge isn’t willing to bend many rules but they do manage to get some time before the trial actually begins to firm up the case. But Michelle takes to a detective who seems to be using his good looks and likely a few lies to possibly cover up what was a bad arrest, and to win Michelle over and help win the case. Jerry, on the other hand, plays by the rules, and finds himself painted into a corner because of it.

Defender Richard Patrick Woolsley (Teddy Sears) gets to defend two old men – fraternal twins – who were accused of forging a signature on their dead roommate’s welfare check. The two men seem to joke their way through the process, and eventually one of them seems to play dead in court to gain sympathy and negotiate a better deal.

With the prosecutor’s office, Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards ) gets a hot date with a juror (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke) from a losing case he had in the previous week. She also happens to be the borough president’s chief of staff, a nice business connection for Marcus to have. This seems to make head of the prosecutors and resident jerk Nick Balco (Currie Graham) almost a little envious. Where Balco has an excess amount of smarminess, his counterpart in the public defenders office, Rosalind Whitman (Gloria Reuben) is the polar opposite, being almost too saccharine.

After watching Law & Order and its spawn for so many years, it is actually a little refreshing to see a show which covers the average, everyday criminals, and their defenders and prosecutors. While cases seems to move by with the speed of light on most crime shows - with crimes seemingly solved and trials occurring in no time flat - it’s a little alarming with “Raising The Bar” when it seems that the norm is having people sit in jail for months and months on end just waiting for their trial to commence. It’s also different in the fact that the show seems to portray most of the prosecutors as people who will do anything, including fight dirty, in order to win a case and make themselves look good. But don’t expect the public defenders to win every case, either.

So where last year I though that ”Raising The Bar” actually lowered it, I’ve now come to the conclusion that maybe it has actually has raised it a little. So if you’re looking for something to fill in the summer void of legal shows, this show may be just the answer.

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