MSRP: $9.40
RUNNING TIME: 430 minutes (10 episodes)

  • Cast interviews
  • Interview w/ a real public defender
  • Blooper reel


The Pitch

Saved by the Bell:The (Post)College Years meets The Practice.

The Humans

Created by Steven Bochco.  Starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben, Jane Kaczmarek, Melissa Sagemiller, J. August Richards, Natalia Cigliuti, and the asshole boss from last week’s review.

The Nutshell

Scrappy, idealistic young defense attorney Bobby Donnell and his team of (mostly) photogenic and equally scrappy associates fight to make the courts safe for decent, law-abiding citizens wrongly accused of… wait.  Sorry, got confused there for a second.  Let’s try this again:  Charmed in court but unlucky in love, idealistic young defense attorney Ally McBeal… nope, that’s not right either.  What was this show about again?

Oh yeah... that guy.

The Lowdown

Not so charmed in court (the judge puts him in handcuffs more than once during the course of the season) and not exactly unlucky in love (he’s frakking Melissa Sagemiller, after all, and he’s got one of the chicks from that other Saved by the Bell show on standby), Mark-Paul Gosselaar makes his (not so) long-awaited return to series television as an idealistic, young, and scrappy (almost to a fault) public defender named… named… damn, I can’t remember.  Let’s just call him “Zack.”  Wow… I used a lot of parentheses there.

Kaczmarek – you may know her as the mom from Malcolm in the Middle – plays the judge Zack is continually butting heads with; Sagemiller is Zack’s love interest – we’ll call her “Kelly” – an assistant DA he could probably get along with if she wasn’t so underhanded in court; Richards basically reprises his role from the last season of Angel and that failed Law & Order show that didn’t have Law & Order in the title; and one of the other main characters, a good-looking, athletic type whose name I can’t remember – let’s call him “Slater” – is a secretly gay Young Republican who’s having the sex with Judge Jane.

No, she doesn't keep the robe on. Sheesh.

Meanwhile, Principal Belding… okay, look.  You might have noticed I’ve been making a lot of jokes here hinging on the idea of confusing Raising the Bar with a number of other shows – namely The Practice, Saved by the Bell, and Ally McBeal.  (I tried to do a Boston Legal joke, but couldn’t find a way into that one).  There’s a reason for that.  This show is perfectly serviceable.  I enjoyed watching it well enough.  But it’s just about the most generic thing you’ve ever seen.  Seriously… if you’ve watched any five episodes of any two of the shows mentioned above, RtB will hold very little in the way of surprises for you.

Let’s go through the basic plots: intrepid lawyer tries to save (presumably) innocent client, but the inexorable machinery of the legal system doggedly prevents him from doing so; lawyer saves client, only to find out (via “shocking” last-minute twist) that the client was actually guilty all along; lawyer compromises his ethics in service to the “greater good,” and tragic consequences result; lawyer experiences a moral dilemma while defending a client he explicitly knows is guilty; and the list goes on.  There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and done, and then done again.  Even David E. Kelley (who’s dipped his pen into this particular inkwell a great many times) realized, by the time Boston Legal rolled around, that every possible permutation of this premise had been done to death, and compensated by giving his later shows a jazzy, goofy, metafictional tone.

"Asshole Boss! I haven't seen you at all this episode."

This show, on the other hand, is played completely straight and deadly earnest.  It’s like The Practice before M. Night Shyamalan took over.  As such, it’s perfectly watchable.  But this stuff has been done, and it’s been done better.

The Package

The public defender interview is interesting.  (For those that don’t know… which is probably everybody… the show was co-created by a writer who’d been a public defender in a previous life).  Apparently Steven Bochco turned down the guy’s initial draft, only agreeing to do the show when the decision was made to add a few DA characters to the mix.  Just one of those things you wouldn’t find out if you didn’t watch the special features.  Doesn’t your life feel enriched?


Out of a Possible 5 Stars