Judge Patrick Bromley bellies up to the bar.
Our review of Raising The Bar: The Complete First Season, published June 8th, 2009, is also available.
Prosecution. Defense. There are two sides to every case. And every lawyer.
And today's winner for "Most Ironic Title" goes to…
Facts of the Case
From Steven Bochco (creator of such shows as Hill Street Blues, LA Law, NYPD Blue and, most importantly, Cop Rock) comes Raising the Bar, a series about idealistic young lawyers starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Dead Man on Campus) and Jane Kaczmarak (Malcolm in the Middle).
Raising the Bar: The Complete Second Season contains the following episodes:
• "Hair Apparent"
• "Rules of Engagement"
• "The Curious Case of Kellerman's Button"
• "No Child's Left Behind"
• "Is There a Doctor in the House?"
• "I'll Be Down to Get You a Taxi, Honey"
• "Fine and Dandy"
• "Trust Me"
• "Trout Fishing"
• "Making Up is Hard to Do"
• "Bobbi Ba-Bing"
• "Maybe, Baby"
• "O! Say Can You Pee"
• "Happy Ending"
You know when you're watching a movie or a TV show and one of the characters in it is an actor? And he or she gets a part on a really corny, formulaic network series—let's say, for the sake of argument—a courtroom drama? And every once in a while we get to see clips of that character acting his or her heart out on a show that's maybe not very good? That, in fact, is so overly earnest that any scene we see is actually played for laughs for anyone other than that character starring on the show? You know that thing I'm talking about? That fake show? That's Raising the Bar.
That's a little harsh, but it's a hard feeling to shake watching Raising the Bar: The Complete Second Season. Having not seen the first season of the show, I can't comment on whether or not this sophomore season is an improvement or not, but the slick attractiveness of the cast combined with the bland earnestness of the writing makes the show feel like a generic legal version of Grey's Anatomy—though, to its credit, Raising the Bar avoids the pitfall of getting too bogged down in its characters' love lives. Instead, everyone's passion is directed at "the law," so we get lots of impassioned speeches and intense "Objections!" and more than a few "I'll allow it, but watch yourself there, counselor…" There are moments of eye-rolling nonsense that are such writer's constructs they could only exist on a TV show (a scene in which Gosselaar appears nearly shirtless in a courtroom to prove a point—successfully, no less—is a good example of this). It's borderline silly at times, and this fact—combined with some mostly uninteresting legal cases—are probably what sank Raising the Bar (the show started out as one of the highest-rated on cable, but rapidly declined until the final episodes of Season Two wound up getting burned off in a Christmas Eve marathon last year). This is a series that offers nothing new to the genre of legal dramas. The bar is not raised. Often times, it's barely even met. It's just there.
As the season progressed, Raising the Bar either improved or Stockholm Syndrome began to set in, because I actually found myself interested in seeing what happened next. That's fairly common with any kind of long-form viewing; the longer you stick with something, the more invested in it you're likely to become. Realistically, though, I would also credit improvement in the writing, which varies in quality from episode to episode. "Trout Fishing," which rolls around two-thirds of the way through the season, is a particular standout, probably because it relies so heavily on the performances of Jane Kaczmarak and John Michael Higgins. Though most of the characters on the show are pretty one-note (some, like Natalia Cigliuti's Bobbi, are actually no-note), there is some attempt to make the drama come out of the characters as opposed to just shoehorning in false crises or heavy-handed theatrics. Yes, the material is lightweight most of the time, but at least it's sincere.
Of course, the real reason I was drawn to Raising the Bar was because of the lead performance by Zack Morris himself, one Mark-Paul Gosselaar. I'm a tried-and-true Saved by the Bell fan, and enjoy that show (still) in a non-ironic way, so I've been happy to see Gosselaar working consistently since the well-deserved demise of Saved by the Bell: The College Years in the mid-'90s. His presence on a TV series appears to be the kiss of death, however; besides a successful run on NYPD Blue, Gosselaar has starred on such non-starters as Hyperion Bay, D.C., Commander in Chief and, now, Raising the Bar, which looked to be a hit at the outset before crashing and burning fairly quickly. His performance as the hot-headed, idealistic Jerry Kellerman is fine if not particularly revelatory, hampered by the fact that the character is pretty stock for this kind of show. Of course, I really shouldn't complain—as clichéd as he is, Gosselaar's character is easily one of the most fully-developed on the show. Most of the characters and actors on Raising the Bar are fairly generic, and it's only when the more experienced character actors show up (usually playing judges, as is the case with Jane Kaczmarek, John Michael Higgins and Jon Polito) that the younger cast gets to see just how it's done.
Raising the Bar: The Complete Second Season arrives on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The 14 episodes are spread out over four discs, all presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer of 1.78:1. The picture quality is pretty terrific for a standard-def DVD set, with strong detail and no visible defects. It's not a particularly colorful show, with a palette consisting mostly of grays, browns and blacks, but the intentions are well-represented here. The audio track is less impressive, with only a stereo option and no 5.1 surround feature. Dialogue can be a bit tough to hear at times without cranking up the sound, and the lack of subtitles doesn't help matters much. The only bonus feature is a handful of deleted scenes that don't amount to much.
The fact that I enjoyed Raising the Bar as much as I did is only because I have a pretty high tolerance for the legal procedural. It's not a show I would recommend, though, especially when a show like The Good Wife has better writing and much more interesting cases (even if I have a tough time sitting through that one, too). This isn't a bad show, but it's not a very good, either. It's just competently ordinary. Plus, it's already been canceled, so unless you were die-hard fan or have to see how everything wraps up, it shouldn't be too difficult to take a pass on this one.
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