Endearing Greg Kinnear plays a lovable legal scoundrel in 'Rake'
By Mary McNamara and Television Critic
Jan 23, 2014 | 8:30 AM
Who doesn't like Greg Kinnear?
With his big worried eyes and leading-man smile, Kinnear inevitably brings an endearing, if slightly anxious, charm to any role he plays. The gay hate-crime victim in "As Good as It Gets. The reluctant buddy to Pierce Brosnan's hilarious hit man in "The Matador." The beleaguered motivational-speaker father in "Little Miss Sunshine." Kinnear always makes whatever he's doing look effortless.
He's at it again in "Rake," Fox's reprise of the Australian hourlong comedy. The show, which premieres Thursday, promises to be this year's midseason breakout. Not since "The Rockford Files" has a character so delightfully swung between self-defeating defects and accidental heroism.
Keegan "Key" Deane (Kinnear) is a defense attorney who shares many traits with his clients. He never met a dollar he didn't think he could double or a situation he didn't think he could talk his way out of.
As a result, he is divorced, homeless, in love with a prostitute (who's still charging him) and in debt, one way or another, to everyone. The list includes a loan shark; his best friend, Ben (John Ortiz), on whose couch he's crashing; his therapist ex (Miranda Otto), from whom he seeks free sessions; and his long-suffering assistant, Leanne (Tara Summers), who is on the verge of deportation.
Key may be bouncing between borrowed offices with his files in a scrunched-up paper bag, but he's also a brilliant lawyer who, between scrapes, manages to see a little justice done.
More important, Keegan Deane is one of the sunnier male characters to grace the screen in a while. That dogged optimism may be nine-tenths self-delusion, but it is still most welcome amid the ever-darkening palette of grim detectives and dysfunctional Everymen who continue to color the TV landscape, especially when film stars are involved.
Peter Duncan, creator of the Australian original, gets the same credit here, but Peter Tolan serves as executive producer. As co-creator of "Rescue Me," Tolan helped jumpstart TV's fascinating if over-long spiral into the dark male psyche.
But "Rake" owes more to the increasingly humane tone of family and female-based comedies like "Modern Family" and "Parks and Recreation" than "Rescue Me," which could (fingers crossed) indicate a similar journey to the light for the ever-popular tortured white male.
And, of course, the people who love them; Kinnear does most of the show's heavy lifting, but the universally fine cast gives him plenty of leverage, creating characters who know Key for exactly who he is and engage with him anyway. Consensual co-dependence does, after all, make the world go 'round.
As the pilot makes clear, no one understands this better than Key. We meet him as he is chatting and laughing it up in a bar with Roy (Omar J. Dorsey). Who then takes him into the rest room and beats him up. Roy's the muscle for the thug who holds Key's chit, but he's also a friend who is just doing his job.
The trick to survival, in Key's viewpoint anyway, is the ability to roll with the punches. Sometimes literally. Later in the episode, when his nervous son comes to a full stop on a freeway on-ramp, Key waxes philosophical. "Everyone gets into an accident sometime," he says, turning his face to the sun. "You got yours out of the way early."
That nonjudgmental, easygoing charm is precisely why the people in Key's life put up with him, and why viewers will be drawn to him. "Rake" may be the story of yet another anti-hero, but it's difficult to remember one this likable.