Known for his successful television dramas, Steven Bochco’s most recent addition, “Raising The Bar” follows a group of lawyers living and working in New York City. Bochco created “NYPD Blue”, “Hill Street Blues”, “Doogie Howser, M.D.” to name a well-known few. On board to help keep “Raising The Bar” somewhat grounded is David Feige, a former public defender. The question becomes, does “Raising the Bar” stand apart like some of Bochco’s previous successes, or does it fit into the law genre that has rapidly taken over the airwaves?
“Raising The Bar” follows a group of lawyers that are longtime friends, despite having gone to work for opposing sides. While the show divides its time between the ambitious lawyers, it’s focus mainly lies with public defender, Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, “Saved By The Bell”, “NYPD Blue” ). Kellerman isn’t your average television lawyer. His hair is long and often in the way, his suits are wrinkled and his ties are loose. He’s a visual mess, but it only enhances the fact that he’s not concerned with keeping up appearances. His main focus is defending his clients, something he does with tenacity and a strong belief in his client’s innocence and right to a fair trial. Sure, we’ve seen this character before, and we’ve even seen it done better, but once you throw in some of Kellerman’s co-workers, his boss Rosalind (Gloria Reuben), Judge Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek), and district attorney lawyers Michelle and Nick (Melissa Sagemiller, Currie Graham), the series starts to feel more original.
“Raising The Bar” follows the usual formula of pitting one group of lawyers with voiceless clients against the opposing side in heated courtroom scenes. What makes this interesting is the series approach of following a group of public defenders and the clients that need their help. The writing is good enough, but at times feels tired. Thankfully there are several characters that keep the series fresh and lively. The best example of a memorable character is Currie Graham as district attorney, Nick Balco. Kaczmarek as Judge Trudy is the perfect choice because she knows exactly how to deliver a line and create a character that teeters on the border between annoying and amusing. This is definitely a series that needs all of the supporting players, and the supporting players are often the one’s you look most forward to watching.
The series opens with Kellerman preparing to take on a case with no evidence and no solid alibi. He’s going to the court room against Michelle who offers him a deal for his client, but the deal doesn’t go over quite as planned. “Raising The Bar” isn’t the best series, but it certainly isn’t the worse. The series is heavier than I expected, but thankfully it isn’t all emotional moments, either. “Raising The Bar” does have some off-beat courtroom moments, office banter and flirtations that keep any lawyer series from becoming drama overload. With only ten episodes, there are several standout performances and some excellent episodes. The series manages to grow with each episode which is promising for the second season.
“Pilot” -While defending a man he is certain is innocent, Jerry struggles to navigate the system while remaining humble in front of a judge who despises him. Michelle tries to right a wrong in a rape trial but runs up against her boss, who doesn’t want the DA’s office to be embarrassed by winning a wrongful conviction.
“Guatemala Gulfstream”-Jerry is defending a family man accused of murder, but the only eyewitness who can prove the man’s innocence is stuck in Guatemala. Michelle finally has the chance to try her first murder case. Richard is defending a young man who is accused of assault in a racially charged case.
“I will, I’m Will” -Jerry is defending a mentally ill client, but his case hits a snag when Judge Kessler orders him to quickly find a suitable in-patient program. Richard defends a woman who got into an altercation at the welfare office after they failed to get her welfare check.
“Richie Richer”- Richard’s extremely wealthy father offers Roz a job at his high-profile firm. Jerry defends a destitute mother whose arrest may be part of a police tactic to pressure her into testifying in a murder case. Richard and Bobbi team up on a murder case in which the suspect was defending his property from being stolen. As Judge Kessler continues to position herself as a political candidate, Charlie gets an unexpected visitor.
“Bagels & Locks” -Jerry takes on a tough, emotional case in which a young boy was molested and murdered in an abandoned building. As press coverage raises the heat on the case, Balco decides to take over as the primary prosecutor.
“Hang Time”-Jerry’s latest case involves a man arrested for following a hit-and-run driver and then stealing money from him. And in a situation with personal implications, Bobbi handles a complicated case in which the wife in a domestic-violence dispute refuses to press charges against her husband.
“A Leg to Stand On” -Jerry defends a client he is certain is innocent. But Jerry is just as certain a jury will not see it that way. When Jerry gets a sign from the judge on the case that it might be better for a bench trial, that’s the direction he goes. Little does he know there are politics at play in the background. Meanwhile, Bobbi is defending a veteran who lost his leg in Iraq and now relies on heroin to control the pain. .
“Out on the Roof” -When an acquaintance of Charlie is arrested for distributing ecstasy, Charlie arranges to have Jerry handle the case. All is well until it turns out the case has been assigned to Charlie’s boss, Judge Kessler. Marcus smells something fishy about a young man from Hell’s Kitchen copping to armed robbery and eventually finds blood runs thicker than water among the man’s Irish family.
“Roman Holiday” -Jerry defends an HIV-positive man charged with attempted murder because he spit in a police officer’s face. Even though medical research shows no possibility of contracting the virus through saliva, Jerry is unable to shake the charge. Bobbie and Richard are hard at work defending a 14-year-old who may have unknowingly become involved in a homicide. Judge Kessler plans a vacation to Italy and invites Charlie to come along.
“Shop Til You Drop”- The appeals court overturns the conviction of a black firefighter accused of stealing property from a body found during a fire. In its ruling, the court found that Judge Kessler was wrong to disallow testimony from a late witness. So now Roz and Balco find themselves jumping back into the trenches to retry the case in which racism may have played a major part. Charlie continues to deal with the aftermath of a major conflict between him and Judge Kessler.
VIDEO: "Raising the Bar" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Picture quality is generally terrific, as the only issue spotted was some occasional and quite minor artifacting. Otherwise, the picture looked clean and clear, with fine sharpness and detail, as well as accurate, nicely saturated colors.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation was perfectly acceptable, given the material. Surrounds occasionally chimed in to offer some minor ambience or reinforcement of the score. Otherwise, the audio was largely from the front speakers. Audio quality was pleasing, as dialogue and other aspects sounded crisp and clear.
“Bagels & Locks” commentary with Creator and Executive Producer Steven Bochco and Supervising Producer & Co-Creator David Feige, and Co-Executive Producer Jesse Bochco. I would have expected more from this group, especially considering Bocho’s lengthy résumé. Thankfully Feige does comment some on the role of the public defender and how it’s portrayed in the show. They also talk about the series development and the desire to keep the show from being too dark, despite the series subject matter. They also talked about changing the look and feel of the show after being picked up. While the group offer some interesting information, it feels like they could have said more considering their history.
“Out on the Roof” commentary with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigliuti, Teddy Sears and J. August Richards. This commentary is much more lively. Off the bat they are quick to share some behind the scenes information and laughs. The cast is so energetic that you can’t help but get wrapped up in everything they’re talking about. They talk about each other and other cast members like they’re old friends, which is refreshing. There are moments where the cast go quiet and start watching the episode, but it doesn’t distract too much from the enjoyment of the commentary.
“Sworn Testimony: True Story of a Public Defender” - This is a nice feature that focuses on co-creator David Feige’s history as a public defender and the process of bringing his experience in law, along with Steven Bochco’s experience in television to life. It’s interesting to hear Feige and Bochco talk about the way the television series came to be, especially considering Bochco wasn’t initially interested in the idea as a series. The feature does a nice job of telling Feige’s story while also including interviews with cast members on having him around to ask questions and learn from. Overall, fans should enjoy this feature, as well as those interested in the process of bringing law to a television series.
“Behind the Bar: An After Hours Roundtable with the Cast” - This is a refreshing take on the usual series feature, mainly because it has some of the cast together to talk about making the series instead of in separate interviews. The cast seems to have a fun time together, which makes it enjoyable to watch. The cast talk about how they got their parts (some auditioned, others didn’t), working together, the influence of Feige, working on “Raising the Bar”, on and off set moments, and more. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage.
“Mistrials: Bloopers from Season 1” - there are some funny moments here that fans should enjoy.
“Confessions of a Shopaholic”
“Army Wives: The Complete Second Season”
Final Thoughts: While it ultimately heads across familiar ground and starts off a little rocky, "Raising the Bar" starts to get going as the season progresses, with fine performances and improving writing. The series certainly has potential, and hopefully will continue to get better in season 2. The DVD set provides fine audio/video, along with a very nice set of supplemental features.