01/23/2014 02:06 EST | Updated 03/25/2014 05:59 EDT

'Rake' Review: You Can Bet On Greg Kinnear


Last summer, I popped in the screener of "Rake"'s original pilot and wanted to poke my eyes out.

I didn't get how the antics of an alcoholic and gambling-addicted lawyer could be so boring but, boy, oh boy, was it a snoozer. I honestly didn't think Greg Kinnear knew how to play an uninteresting character because the actor oozes so much charm, but Keegan Deane was nowhere near as charismatic as his portrayer.

I guess I wasn't the only one who was less-than-impressed with the original pilot because, thankfully, it has been overhauled into a compelling hour. Kinnear's talents are no longer wasted and what's better is that he is also surrounded by an equally appealing, enjoyable cast.

"Rake" -- which is based on the successful Australian series of the same name -- centres on Keegan Deane, whose life is constantly snowballing around him, thanks to his massive gambling addiction, money problems and personal struggles.

The show has already been compared to "House" as it features a sometimes unlikable character whose one redeeming quality is how great he is at his job. And, for me, therein lies the difference. House was cranky yet brilliant; Keegan is as debauched as they come but as far as work goes, he's good, great even. But formidable? Not quite. Perhaps that's because we've only gotten a glimpse at who Keegan is, and the entire package may be tainting what we've seen.

Most of the clients Keegan takes on are guilty of the crimes they are accused of so that doesn't make him any more likable. He is self-centred, takes on particular cases because of how they will benefit him best, and while that would be irksome, Kinnear makes it an almost endearing quality. How does he do that?

Keegan starts off every day battered and bruised, be it physically and/or emotionally. It's all self-inflicted, of course, and while that could be frustrating for viewers, because of Kinnear, that only makes him - and the show -- more entertaining. Thankfully, Kinnear is nothing like his character.

"I don't know that there's a lot of similarities," the actor said during a conference call with the media. "I think it's what really attracted me to the character, when I saw the Australian show.

"Not only the ensemble nature of the show, but just Keegan himself, the inability to not get out of his own way, his needs and wants and addictions all snowball around him constantly, just that notion, two step forward, three steps back, seemed like a fun zone to play with," he explained. "Not that I don'thave my own little bag of self-destructive traits, we all do, but he has them at such a flawless rate. He has such an ability to miscalculate, set off personal landmines around him in life. It seemed like a fun area to play around in."

But "Rake" isn't all about Keegan. Despite his downfalls, he is surrounded by some very forgiving people who have obviously also fallen for his charms. There's his best friend Ben (John Ortiz) and his wife, Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), another of Keegan's old pals who also happens to be a prosecutor, and is often Keegan's opposition in court. Often cleaning up Keegan's messes is his no-nonsense assistant, Leanne (Tara Summers) and picking him up when he's feeling down is his favourite prostitute, Mikki (Bojana Novakovic).

Rounding out the cast are enforcer Roy (Omar J. Dorsey) whose job it is to get Keegan to pay his gambling debts, his ex-wife, Maddy (Miranda Otto), who provides him with free therapy, and his son, Finn (Ian Colletti) who will soon show that the "like father, like son" adage is indeed the case here. Uh-oh. Oh, and also part of the cast -- but not in the pilot -- is IRS tax attorney David Potter (David Harbour), which doesn't bode well for Keegan and will likely make his life more miserable than it already is.

The series is created by Peter Duncan, who also conceived the original "Rake," and is executive-produced by Peter Tolan, co-creator of "Rescue Me." While there's nothing particularly original about the series (we've seen the charming loser who's too irresistible to resist many times before) but the excellent writing and the winsome Kinnear somehow manages to make it seem fresh. What could have been -- and once began as -- a dark, dismal, sleepy show has evolved into a quirky legal drama with the comical tone of "The Good Wife" and "Boston Legal." That may sound like a tough sell (it likely won't retain too much of "American Idol"'s very-different audience) but I wouldn't count out Keegan Deane just yet. In fact, I bet he will find success.

"Rake" premieres Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on Global and Fox.

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