Hill Street Blues… L.A. Law… Murder One… NYPD Blue… There was a time when Steven Bochco’s name was synonymous with the best cop and lawyer shows on television (and also Doogie Houser, M.D.). So when I heard that TNT had snagged Raising the Bar–Bochco’s latest lawyer drama with a promising cast that includes the excellent Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Gloria Reuben (E.R.), J. August Richards (Angel) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who’d probably prefer that I remind you of his work on NYPD Blue rather than Saved by the Bell)–I was intrigued. Heck, even the guest stars are interesting–Veronica Mars alum Percy Daggs III (we miss you, Wallace!) and My So-Called Life vet Wilson Cruz (we love you, Rickie!) both show up in episode two.
Alas, there is nothing to intrigue in this terminally mediocre show because Raising the Bar is a standard-issue courtroom drama populated by one-dimensional characters struggling through been-there-done-that plots. While it’s ostensibly about a group of chummy young prosecutors and public defenders who duke it out in the courtroom and then adjourn for a beer in the local bar, it’s actually a study in just how tired the whole genre has become.
Everyone on Raising the Bar is apparently either pure good or pure evil or–dullest of all–professionally disinterested. Kaczmarek is criminally wasted as a hateful, self-serving judge engaged in a squicky (and unfathomable) affair with her obviously gay law clerk (Jonathan Scarfe). Reubens is so uniformly pleasant and bland she might as well not even be there. Richards seems to be playing the exact same generic lawyer he played on the deservedly short-lived Conviction (which was, incidentally, not so different from his character during the last season of Angel). Gosselaar is stuck with a caricature of an idealistic young public defender–complete with the requisite shaggy hair, untucked shirt and messenger bag we’ve come to know as this television trope’s standard uniform– who’s seemingly unable to learn from his own mistakes.
Which leads me to another problem with the series. The characters are so trapped by their clichés that they bump up against one another in exactly the same ways, episode after episode. Watch three episodes and you’ll have seen Gosselaar and Kaczmarek have the same argument three times. Yawn.
If you’re hankering for a lawyer show, do yourself a favor and Netflix some of Bochco’s classics. Even Doogie Houser was better than this tripe.