Raking through a messy (and funny) TV life

This is a busy time in the TV and cable world, as mid-season shows arrive. "Rake" (Thursday on Fox) is an amiable one, with Greg Kinnear as a sharp lawyer with a messy life. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Greg Kinnear’s new shot at TV stardom began years ago and
several continents away.

It would become “Rake,” opening Thursday in a cozy slot
behind “American Idol.” Kinnear plays a smart and charming lawyer whose life is

“He makes sizable mistakes” without changing, Kinnear said.
“He isn’t built like a typical television protagonist. That was kind of what
appealed to me.”

The roots for that began with Australian actor Richard
Roxburgh. “He had a friend at university who was a brilliant guy,” writer Peter
Duncan said, “but every Friday and Saturday, he’d get in a fight with someone
and he would be beaten up.”

 Duncan pondered that
until he read about a messy crime trial. A former lawyer himself, Duncan
decided to make this self-destructive character a lawyer.

So “Rake” began in 2010, with Roxburgh starring. The U.S.
version includes two Australian actresses who weren’t in the original series,
but remember it as fans.

“It just felt like such an intelligent, funny show,” Miranda
Otto said. “Such a grown-up show.”

Adds Bojana Novakovic: “It was a really great thing to see
so many amazing female characters.”

These sharp female characters surround a mess of a guy. Otto
plays his ex-wife, Novakovic plays a prostitute who is his sort-of mistress,
Tara Summers plays an office assistant who rarely gets paid. “She’s here
illegally, … so he’s the only one who will pay her,” Summers said.

This may be the messiest TV life since the troubled fireman
Denis Leary played in “Rescue Me.” To create the American version, Duncan was
paired with Peter Tolan, who led “Rescue Me” with Leary.

The U.S. pilot went too far, Tolan said, with a sadness
overload. They pushed that episode back and started with brighter ones, “to
sort of get an audience comfortable with a guy who’s this much of a

Retained from the Australian version was the title: “Rake”
isn’t the character’s name; it’s an obsolete word for a sort of loose party
guy. “We’re trying to pull in the highly coveted viewership of people who were
alive during the Elizabethan times,” Tolan joked.

He jokes often, inserting bright moments into press
conferences and scripts. Like “Rescue Me,” this show juggles big laughs and
high-stakes drama.

Kinnear has done both in movies, but usually not in the same
project. “It’s probably not done very often,” he said, “because it hard to do …
to find that comedic/drama balance.” Now there are funny ways for him to tackle
messy cases and live a messy life.

“Rake,” 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; debuts Jan. 23