Preview: Raising the Bar

Young legal guns

In the US: TNT, some time in the Fall. No airdate set

Lawyers, hey? Always such curmudgeonly old types, their actually having to know things n’all. So unphotogenic. Ugh.

Wouldn’t it be just the coolest thing, though, if we could have a TV show about young lawyers who were all really pretty? No, not like Shark. Absolutely no old folks around – you know 35 or even 40 – to mess things up. We want pretty, pretty, pretty.

But wouldn’t they all be a bit rubbish?

Maybe. But we could make that a virtue. How about they’re all a bit rough and ready and make mistakes? They’d screw up – and each other – because they wouldn’t know better.

They’d need practice and training before they could handle tricky things well. We could call it something like Law Squad? No? How about Training Briefs?

I know. Raising the Bar. That’ll do.

TNT has given the greenlight to RAISING THE BAR, the latest series from the mastermind of legal dramas, Emmy®-winner Steven Bochco. The series, which stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue), Gloria Reuben (ER) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), follows the lives and cases of young lawyers who have been friends since law school, but who now work on opposing sides. TNT has ordered 10 episodes of RAISING THE BAR, which was created by Bochco and lawyer/writer David Feige (Indefensible). It comes to TNT from ABC Studios and Bochco Media, with Bochco serving as executive producer. Bochco and Feige wrote the story for the pilot episode, and Feige wrote the script. The pilot was directed by Jesse Bochco (The Closer). The series is slated to premiere later this year.

“RAISING THE BAR is the sort of smart, highly charged legal drama for which Steven Bochco is known and an ideal fit for our line-up,” said Michael Wright, senior vice president in charge of the content creation group for TNT, TBS and TCM. “Steven and the exceptional cast and crew he’s assembled have put together an excellent drama, and we’re proud to add another talent-rich, entertaining series to the TNT schedule.”

In RAISING THE BAR, Gosselaar stars as Jerry Kellerman, an idealistic public defender who will stop at nothing to help those who cannot help themselves. Reuben plays Rosalind Whitman, his passionate and protective boss. Teddy Sears (Ugly Betty) is Richard Patrick Woolsley, who foregoes a cushy job in his father’s firm to work for the public defender’s office. On the opposite side, Melissa Sagemiller (Sleeper Cell) plays Michelle Ernhardt, an attorney in the DA’s office with an unassailable morality and a burning desire to see justice done. She works for assistant DA Nick Balco, played by Currie Graham (Boston Legal), a bit of a lecher who, nevertheless, has a razor-sharp knowledge of the law. They are joined by J. August Richards (Conviction) as Marcus McGrath, who will stop at nothing to put criminals behind bars. The courtroom arena in which they face off belongs to Judge Trudy Kessler, played by Kaczmarek. She is imperious and known throughout legal circles to be a little crazy, treating the courtroom as her own private fiefdom. Working for her is law clerk Charlie Sagansky, played by Jonathan Scarfe (Into the West), a man with a wealth of secrets.

Is it any good?
It’s so-so. On the legal side, there’s nothing there you haven’t seen before, other than lawyers who are all a bit rubbish and still have consciences left – and totally mental judges. It’s a bit more varied on the personal side, since rather than a bunch of pals from the same legal firm, we have a bunch of pals who were all at school together, so work in different firms or for the DA. Will they be friendly to each other or will they be mean to their friends, just because they’re on opposite sides of the process now?

The cast are all very pretty. J August Richards is probably the best of the lot, unsurprising since he’s done nothing but play lawyers since (and during) his stint on Angel. But Mark-Paul Gosselaar is relatively interesting and Jane Kaczmarek is intriguingly dotty.

Otherwise, there’s not much to work with. The plot’s a bit flaccid and unoriginal. The characters are too threadbare and unformed at the moment to really be of interest. We literally have people calling each other by their archetype name ("Hey! Rich Guy!"), they have so few dimensions. There are a few glimmers in a couple of characters, but it’s going to take time for the rest of the cast to emerge from their pupae.

It’s vaguely interesting in a car-crash sort of way: you’re just waiting to see how they all screw up and when secrets will be revealed. But there’s nothing too clever or original about it. To a certain extent, that’s a problem with the genre itself, which might have been mined for all its worth now. It’s probably best just to think of it as a soap opera that happens to be entirely composed of lawyers. Maybe one to keep an eye on, if only for its pedigree.