Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season – DVD Review

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In the last 10 years, legal dramas on television seem to be competing with medical dramas to see which television genre can have the most shows on TV at same time. It actually started earlier than that, but it seems like the popularity of these shows has exploded over the most recent years. You could make a strong case that producer, Steven Bochco, started the trend of legal dramas on television. You might know Bochco as the guy who created Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue. But in today’s world, with all the various Law & Order still shows running around, do audiences really need a new legal drama? TNT and Steven Bochco think so, which is why Raising the Bar is still going strong on that network.

Raising the Bar stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Jerry Kellerman, a Manhattan public defender who strongly believes in the pursuit of truth and opposes anything that stands in the way of it. On Jerry’s side is Richard Woolsley (Teddy Sears), who has more of a clean-cut look and scoffs at his father’s standing invitation to his private firm. They are also joined by Bobbi Gilardi (Natalia Cigliuti), a new hire from Brooklyn who quickly moves from securing favors to trying cases. Their boss is Roz Whitman (Gloria Reuben), a soft-spoken and agreeable boss, largely reduced to infrequent behind-desk sightings. From the district attorney’s office, we also get to know pretty Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller), who’s committed to earning first chair assignments. She is assisted by Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards), who keeps the sides’ numbers even. Their boss, D.A. Nick Balko (Currie Graham), loves good press and on-the-job sexual harassment. They all try to persuade the relentlessly tough judge Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek) to their side from case to case. But Trudy has a low tolerance for anything other than her perspective and instincts. Trudy also has a law clerk in Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe), whose relationship with Trudy isn’t always restricted to law activities.

The acting is decent enough, but the characters are nothing we haven’t seen before. They are all pretty much similar to or combinations of past characters from other law shows. Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s hair has gotten the most attention so far in this series, which should probably tell you how memorable Gosselaar’s character is. The main problem is that there are no real villains in the cast. This is mainly due to the fact that all the characters went to law school together and they socialize often. That can lead to some good drama, but viewers really don’t know who they should be rooting for and against.

It also doesn’t help that the storylines are pretty predictable. They almost always have the “been there, seen that” feeling to them. At times, this series is eerily similar to The Practice. Then, other times, Raising the Bar is like a combination of all the past Steven Bochco shows as well. At least the cases that revolve around all the lawyer drama are somewhat interesting to watch.

You would think that it would be tough for Steven Bochco to create an original law drama after 30 years. Upon watching the first season of this show, that assumption would be mostly true. The acting is good enough to make this series watchable. But there is nothing going on during this series that you haven’t seen before in countless other law dramas. That is the ultimate flaw for this series. That being said, fans of law shows will probably be entertained by the first season of Raising the Bar. Hopefully, the second season of the show will have better writing, and maybe Mark-Paul Gosselaar will get a haircut to spice things up.

Episodes:

Disc One:

Episode 1 – Pilot
Jerry represents an accused rapist he believes was erroneously identified. Richard seeks a deal from the D.A.’s office in exchange for testimony against a serial rapist.

Episode 2 – Guatemala Gulfstream
Michelle wants a break from Jerry when they go against each other in her first murder trial. The case is complicated by a key witness from Guatemala with an outstanding warrant from 15 years ago. Richard tries an assault case spawned from a high school love triangle.

Episode 3 – Richie Richer
Whether it’s considered homicide or manslaughter, a case carrying unusual ramifications for the D.A.’s office, the public defenders, and Rosalind prepares for trial with neither side wanting to settle. Jerry represents a mother being coerced to testify in a murder trial.

Episode 4 – I Will, I’m Will
Jerry jockeys to get a psychiatric institution bed for a friend/client (guest Shane Johnson) otherwise facing jail time. Richard defends a lady involved in a skirmish while trying to cash a check.

Disc Two:

Episode 5 – Bagels and Locks
Against Balco, Jerry defends a man who claims he raped but didn’t murder an 8-year-old boy. Bobbi tries to reunite a drug supplier suspect with his new wife.

Episode 6 – Hang Time
Bobbi tries to help a poor, young married couple (Josh Stewart, Ashley Johnson) wanting domestic assault charges dropped. Jerry represents a man charged with armed robbery born out of a car accident.

Episode 7 – A Leg to Stand On
Jerry’s client opts for a bench trial in his mugging case. Bobbi defends an amputee war hero medicating himself with heroin. Richard clicks with a client/neo-burlesque dancer/law student (Jud Tylor).

Episode 8 – Out on the Roof
Charlie’s secret fling (Wilson Cruz of “My So-Called Life”) gets Jerry to handle his drug bust case. Marcus reconsiders making a deal with a teenager accused of robbing a liquor store, suspecting he’s a patsy.

Disc Three:

Episode 9 – Roman Holiday
Against Michelle and an arrogant co-prosecutor (guest Erik Palladino), Jerry defends an HIV-positive activist charged with spitting at a police officer. Meanwhile, Richard and Bobbi represent a 14-year-old boy who will be tried for murder for acting in concert. Facing an Italian vacation with Trudy, Charlie comes out.

Episode 10 – Shop Till You Drop
When a decision is reversed and neither side will compromise, Jerry and Roz prepare a retrial for a disgraced firefighter. Richard represents a shopaholic senior in dangerous debt. Judge Kessler re-evaluates her relationship with Charlie. Bobbi is troubled by news about her husband.

The video is given in widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It is enhanced for 16X9 TVs, of course. Transfer is great with minimal distortion.

The audio included is available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in Spanish and French as well. It’s pretty standard quality for a TV show. The dialogue comes out crisp and clear. No major problems here either.

Audio Commentaries
There are two full-length audio commentaries for two different episodes in this season. Steven Bochco (creator), David Feige (producer), and Jesse Bochco (co-executive producer/) comment on the “Bagels and Locks” episode. Seven actors from the series including Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigliuti, Teddy Sears, and J. August Richards comment on the “Out on the Roof” episode. The cast commentary is actually more entertaining and informative than the the crew commentary. So check that one out if you want.

“Sworn Testimony: True Stories of a Public Defender” Featurette
This runs 14 minutes and it’s your standard “making-of” featurette. We hear the usual fluffy stuff from the cast and crew about the series.

“Behind the Bar: An After Hours Roundtable with the Cast” Featurette
This runs 13 minutes and it features actors Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Natalia Cigliuti, Teddy Sears, and J. August Richards in a roundtable discussion. They talk about their audition processes, Bochco’s hidden political stances, their characters and motivations, and the system being dramatized. This one is more worth watching than the previous featurette.

“Mistrials: Bloopers from Season One”
This is 2 minutes worth of the usual gags and mistakes from filming this season. Not really that funny.

As far as law shows go, this one is average at best. Not the best, but not the absolute worst. If you are a hardcore law fan, this might be worth a rental. The same goes for hardcore Mark-Paul Gosselaar fans. All others will likely want to pass.


Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Raising the Bar: Season 1. Created by Steven Bochc and, David Feige. Starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben, Currie Graham, Melissa Sagemiller, J. August Richards, Jonathan Scarfe, Teddy Sears, Natalia Cigliuti, and Jane Kaczmarek. Running time: 431 minutes. Rated: Not Rated. Released on DVD: June 2, 2009. Available at Amazon.com