Bar Not Yet Raised


TNT raised the curtain on Steven Bochco’s new court drama, "Raising the Bar," Monday night. If its debut was meant to establish that the show had raised the bar for TV court fare, it failed to convince this jury of one.

One caveat is that I missed the first 10 minutes or so, but what I did catch did not rivet me to my chair or keep my clicker finger from toggling to the 10 p.m. "hurriconvention" amalgams on the broadcast networks, or frankly, from snatches of the umpteenth airing of Comedy Central’s roast of Bob Saget, the bleepingest, bluest show around.

And speaking of Blue, Raising the Bar had a shower scene with a beautiful blonde that immediately made me think of another beautiful blonde in another shower scene in Bochco’s NYPD Blue that still has the FCC’s knickers in a twist. But in this case, on cable, where there are no FCC police to haul you in for indecent exposure, there was some full frontal terrycloth and nothing else.

There was ample swearing, however, of the non-seven-dirty-words variety that Blue helped pioneer. But there was not a lot of groundbreaking stuff, dialogwise or actionwise or otherwise, in that first episode.

I realize that a lot needs to get done in the way of establishing characters and future plotlines, and I may have missed an opening like that L.A. Law opening scene with the dead partner face down in a plate of spaghetti (I think it was spaghetti). But I did see three-quarters of Bar, and what I did see seemed more like the standard lawyer show fare, and with dialog that was not up to typical Bochco standards.

There was one line that bordered on groaningly bad from Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle): "You have such soft lips," she said to a young boytoy lawyer clerk, "and that magical mouth." It was almost like a Carol Burnett parody of a love scene, only with no punch line. "People don’t talk that way," said my wife unprompted. I have never heard that said before about a Bochco show. 

The show does boast some former NYPD Blue standouts, including its central character, earnest lawyer/hunkMark Paul Gosselaar and Nick Balco, who played the final boss on Blue. But they will need more to work with in future episodes. Gosselaar is a tad too earnest, and I hope I did not see him signaling solidarity to prisoners he had only been with for a few hours while locked up for mouthing off to a judge.

Bochco is an innovator in scene changes, dissolves and wipes, and he was in rare form Monday night with stretch dissolves, and a sort of horizontal bar transition, plus vanishing acts for jurors, though the scene changes  were distracting at times and sometimes suggested Star Trek crewmen transporting down to alien worlds.

Because Bochco has built up a bank account with innovative programming and great writing, the case is far from closed on this show for me, but I will need to see and hear some stronger arguments in coming weeks.