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HTF DVD Review: Raising the Bar - The Complete First Season


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss

    Screenwriter



  • 2,767 posts
  • Join Date: Nov 15 2001
  • Real Name:Neil Middlemiss

Posted May 30 2009 - 04:02 PM

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Raising the Bar
The Complete First Season




Studio: ABC Studios
Year: 2009
US Rating: TV-14
Film Length: 430 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Subtitles: French and Spanish




US Release Date: June 2, 2009
Review Date: May 30, 2009

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"I thought of Mr. Radley last night and I wished he was dead. I wished it so hard my head hurt. And while I was hoping and wishing, I pulled the arm off a doll that looked just like him. Am I a criminal? Because, under the theory of this prosecution, I committed an attempted murder last night. My anger and belief in voodoo made me guilty of exactly the same crime you've charged Mr. Bussie with"



Steven Bochco has been making television for decades. The man we all associate with memorable television series such as L.A. Law, Murder One, NYPD Blue and the more recent but short-lived Over There has been prolific. He returns to the land of the law in his new show, created in partnership with David Feige, with Raising the Bar which airs on the TNT network (and will return for a second season on June 8 at 10/9 Central).

The television landscape is replete with shows that base their premise and stories on the law in one way or another. Shows that explore (and glorify) the forensic world, the beat of police officers, the investigation of detectives, the ins and outs of trials and a combo show of both detectives and trials in the all-time great, Law & Order. Somewhat similar to Dick Wolf’s ill-fated lawyer only show, Conviction, with a youthful cast filling characters whose lives intertwine in ways personal and professional; Raising the Bar tells its stories from both the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices with characters who act and interact in ways that complicate things both inside and outside the courtroom.

Saved by the Bell’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar continues to shed that young-school boy image in a solid, if occasionally implausibly intemperate and unnecessarily argumentative performance as Jerry Kellerman – working hard for the innocent in the Public Defender’s office. Angel’s J. August Richards is a very likeable actor, though his strong-headedness as a talented attorney here is hard to sympathize with at times. Melissa Sagemiller is ok as Michelle Ernhadrt, a hard-working lawyer working her way up in the DA’s office. Jane Kaczmarek stars as Judge Trudy Kessler, a sour, stubborn and often unreasonably self-centered woman; A terrific actress who has yet to be given the right material to flex her talent on the show. Jonathan Scarfe is good as the Secretary to Judge Kessler, Charlie Sagansky. His character is among the most interesting in this first season. Currie Graham stars as the smug Nick Balco in a role incredibly similar to his turn as A.D.A. Frank Ginsberg on David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal – and he eats it up just the same. Teddy Sears portrays Richard Patrick Woolsley, an interesting character as a relatively new, and very wealthy lawyer working diligently in the PD’s office. The rest of the cast is suitable but E.R’s Gloria Reuben is underused as Rosalind Whitman, executive director of the Public Defender’s office.

The show has several good elements working in its favor, and a number of wrinkles to iron out. First the good. With a zip and energy to the transitional shots of New York City it reminds of Boston Legal but without the fun and tongue in cheek of that show– they are, however, indicative of the general energy the show keeps up. Managing multiple cases per episode and letting the story follow the characters on both sides of the aisle keeps things interesting. Performances are generally good – with the good guys easy to spot and the bad guys fun to root against (though that might be a complaint as much as a compliment).

So here’s what doesn’t work so well. The cases really need more substance to them beyond the surface exploration we see. Despite good scenes in the courtroom with the public defenders and district attorneys going toe to toe exploring the case – dramatically speaking, it doesn’t seem to quite get to the sweet spot enough. Some clunky scripting and characters behaving in ways that are hard to swallow is also a misstep in this first season for a show that appears to be making an earnest attempt to seriously tell tales from New York’s public defenders/district attorney’s office.


The Episodes

Disc One
1. Pilot
2. Guatemala Gulfstream
3. I Will, I’m Will
4. Ritchie Richer

Disc Two
5. Bagels and Locks
6. Hang Time
7. A Leg to Stand On
8. Out on the Roof

Disc Three
9. Roman Holiday
10. Shop Till You Drop



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ABC Studios presents the first 10 episodes of Raising the Bar on three discs in a widescreen 1.78:1 format and is enhanced for widescreen televisions.

The show looks good on DVD. A sharp image, good flesh tones and rich colors, particularly the deep color woods in the courtroom. I have seen crisper TV on DVD, but Raising the Bar makes its appearance on the format in a pleasing and suitable manner, if a little dark at times, image.



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Despite coming with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Raising the Bar doesn’t really make use of it. The show is primarily dialogue, which is wholly issue free in the center channel and music (which isn’t always fitting the overall vibe of the show) in the front left and right. Perhaps once or twice something was heard in the surrounds. The audio doesn’t have any issues but just isn’t as full as it could have been.



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Audio Commentaries - Audio commentaries from the cast and series creators are available on several episodes. For having as many people in the room commenting on the episodes, these commentaries are surprisingly orderly and good time is spent covering production, writing, performances and achieving the ‘right’ tone of the show.

Sworn Testimony: True Stories Of A Public Defender - (13:43) – Producer and Public defender David Feige talks about the book he wrote and sent to Stephen Bochco which set in motion what eventually became Raising the Bar. Interviews with the actors are interspersed, talking about shadowing David on a tour of the Manhattan and Bronx courts.

Behind The Bar: An After Hours Roundtable With The Cast - (13:15) – The main cast talk about coming aboard the show, working day to day on the show and with each other. They also discuss how the show breaks some new ground dealing with the Public Defender’s office. The cast clearly interact well together and that camaraderie comes through on screen. Perhaps the most intriguing of the special features offered.

Mistrials: Bloopers From Season One - (1:53) – A throw-away two minutes that offers little by way of giggles.




Final Thoughts

Raising the Bar is a likeable show that demonstrates promise during its 10 episode season one. The writers get into some quality, if familiar stories and are on their way to figuring out the characters in their show. The concept of exploring lawyers who prosecute and defend clients – then find time to let off some steam together in a bar hangout could have derailed the value of courtroom proceedings - but the show succeeds so far in finding the right balance. The show is still finding its legs, but there is enough promise here to be worth checking out.


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Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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