Raising The Bar - Season 1
Starring: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigluiti, Teddy Sears, Currie Graham, Melissa Sagemiller, J. August Richards, Jane Kaczmarek, Jonathan Scarfe
Created By: Steven Bochco
Premieres: Monday, September 1, 2008 at 10:00 PM ET on TNT
Raising The Bar is a new legal drama that centers on a group of attorneys, some of whom work for the district attorney’s office and others who slave away as public defenders, working hard to represent indigent people. Since the public defenders are the underdogs, I’ll introduce them first. Mark-Paul-Gosselaar plays Jerry Kellerman, an idealistic man-of-the-people-type who believes in what he does as a public defender and genuinely wants to help his clients beat the system. Roz Whitman (Gloria Reuban) is the head of the public defender’s office. She’s strong and very compassionate towards the clients her attorneys represent as well as the attorneys themselves, realizing that the work they do can be quite challenging. Bobbi Gilardi (Natalia Cigiuiti) is the resident newbie at the public defender’s office, coming in from the Brooklyn office and seems to be just as enthusiastic about her work as Kellerman is. Finally, there’s Richard Patrick Woolsley (Teddy Sears), a rich guy who passed on working for his father’s big law firm, preferring to help make a difference for people in need.
Among the people working at the DA’s office are Nick Balco (Currie Graham), a district attorney whose ruthless tactics often make the public defenders jobs even harder than they would be otherwise. Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller) is a young assistant district attorney who is constantly trying to prove herself. Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards) is a quick-witted lawyer who wants to win his cases the honest way. Richards is probably most commonly known for his role as Gunn in Angel and seeing him all lawyer-y in Raising the Bar is somewhat reminiscent of the Gunn we knew in Angel’s final season.
Last but definitely not least are two characters that spend even more time in court than the attorneys. Jane Kaczmarek plays Judge Trudy Kessler, a former public defender who takes the law very seriously and often literally. Saying she’s a tough woman is putting it mildly. Her rigidity when it comes to the law often poses a problem for the public defenders. Most of us remember Kaczmarek from her hilarious role as the mom in Malcolm in the Middle. You might recall how scary she could be when she was mad. Picture that kind of rage all bottled up and seeping out in a constant, steady stream and that’s pretty much what we see from her in this new role. She’s fantastic.
Kessler’s law clerk is Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe). Sagansky will go to any lengths to work his way up the judicial ladder in the hopes of one day being a judge. In the series premiere we learn that Sagansky is playing a dangerous game with his career in an attempt to get in with the right people. I won’t spoil it for you any further than that because the revelation is pretty much the only really interesting thing going on with this series so far.
There really isn’t anything new about Raising the Bar compared to other legal dramas other than Gosselaar’s unfortunate hair. Most of the attorneys appear to have some history with each other that extends further back than their law careers, so it’s not like the public defenders are the “good guys” and the DA’s people are the “bad guys.” Most of them are young and just starting to establish themselves in the legal system. Kellerman is probably the most passionate of the group, believing without a doubt that all of his clients deserve a fair trial. This often leads him to butt heads with Judge Kessler, which despite his good intentions, have a tendency to get in the way and in some cases, hurt his client’s case.
From the episodes I saw, the format of the series seems somewhat cookie-cutter if you’ve watched enough legal dramas. The public defenders have clients who, either due to their own mistakes or else, due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, need the help of free legal counsel. In one episode, Kellerman is representing a man who is mentally imbalanced. Kellerman appears to be the only one who believes his client could get his life together if given a second chance. I get the impression that this is the kind of story that people can expect to see on this series somewhat regularly.
When not in court, the attorneys are either working on their cases or sharing a few drinks after hours and trying to balance the blurry line between work and play. Speaking of which, early on we learn that one of the public defenders is in a romantic relationship with someone from the DA’s office and naturally, this causes some tension when they’re set to work on opposite sides of the same case.
Overall, Raising The Bar is nothing special but it’s not off to a bad start either. There are some aspects of the characters and their relationships with one another that are headed in an interesting direction and I wouldn’t say the series would be a waste of time to watch but with other legal dramas pushing the boundaries a bit more (example: FX’s Damages), it’s hard to get excited about Raising The Bar. If the show has one thing going for it, it’s that the cast is very promising.