Tuned In: 'Rake' surprisingly dull-edged for Fox

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Fox attempts to recapture the magic of "House" with "Rake" (9 tonight, WPGH), a remake of an Australian series about a self-destructive criminal defense attorney, but as Fox shows go, "Rake" is not all that edgy or innovative.

Greg Kinnear stars as Keegan Deane, a gambling addict with a penchant for getting in his own way by making terrible choices that pile one on top of the other. In tonight's premiere that includes gambling debts, a Pacific Bluefin tuna received in payment for gambling winnings, an expired driver's license and more.

Mr. Kinnear certainly has the charm to play this rakish character, and the overstuffed pilot introduces a lot of characters who might help propel the series' stories in the future. But if "House" is the model, "Rake" is a somewhat stale successor.

Nothing in the pilot sparks the show to life. The episode introduces multiple characters and builds on audience expectations and then throws in twists that are not all that surprising, especially after the third time this dramatic device is used.

The episode airing tonight is a second attempt at a pilot -- the original pilot will now air as the series' fourth episode -- and both episodes were directed by Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man," "Oz the Great and Powerful"). Tonight's debut finds Keegan facing down a gambling debt, which leads him to defending a serial killer he presumes to be guilty ("All my clients are guilty!" Rake declares), but in what turns out to be an irritation for Rake, his client may have been railroaded by the Los Angeles chief of police.

"Rake" toggles between the case of the week and Keegan's complicated home life, which actually presents the more entertaining scenes as Keegan tries to keep all the balls he's juggling in the air at once.

He's still in contact with his ex-wife, but he also has a prostitute on retainer. And Keegan lives with his best friend and squares off against the friend's wife in court (when he's not playing chauffeur to the couple's children).

As is often the case in pilots, although not always second attempts like this one, the "Rake" premiere has too much going on. Some regular characters get introduced in just one scene, which creates a shoehorning effect that makes it difficult to get a real grasp on the characters, beyond their connection to Rake.

Perhaps in time, and thanks largely to Mr. Kinnear's charm offensive, "Rake" could develop into an entertainingly messy legal show. But it's unclear if that outcome is in the cards.

'Sherlock' scores

"Sherlock" (10 p.m. Sunday, WQED-TV) returned to "Masterpiece Mystery!" Sunday with an average audience of 4 million viewers, a 25 percent increase from the 3.2 million viewers who tuned in for the season-two premiere in 2012.

(Episode three of the fourth season of "Downton Abbey" reached 8.4 million viewers, up from 7.9 million who tuned in a week earlier for episode two -- football on Sunday was probably less competition for "Masterpiece" than the "Golden Globes" a week earlier.)

The halo effect of "Downton" and now "Sherlock" has resulted in sold-out underwriting for "Masterpiece" this year, a far cry from just a few years ago when the program could not attract a single underwriter.

Some published reports earlier this month suggested a fourth season of "Sherlock" could go into production and be ready to air late in 2014. Executive producer Sue Vertue said such a scenario is technically possible but no schedules have been set.

"We're still checking our diaries," she said, presumably meaning schedules. "It's like a Venn diagram [with everyone's schedules]."

Benedict Cumberbatch said he chatted with Robert Downey Jr. Sunday night and traded notes about playing Sherlock Holmes, but he's never had "a proper sit down about it yet" with fellow Brit-playing-Sherlock Jonny Lee Miller of CBS's "Elementary," an old friend. "The last thing we want to do is talk shop."

Read more about "Sherlock" in Sunday's Post-Gazette.

More PBS drama

PBS is not letting go of that 10 p.m. Sunday time slot after "Sherlock" finishes its run on Feb. 9.

The public broadcaster has lined up two one-off British import TV movies for February.

"The Making of a Lady" (10 p.m. Feb. 9), based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett ("The Secret Garden"), follows educated but poor Emily Fox Seaton (Lydia Wilson) as she marries and befriends her husband's relatives. "Murder on the Homefront" (10 p.m. Feb. 16), set during World War II, follows the search for a serial killer during the Blitz in World War II London.

Channel surfing

Tonight at midnight Adult Swim airs the latest episode of "The Greatest Event in Television History," about the remaking of a classic TV show's opening credits sequence, the brain child of Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") and Paul Rudd ("Anchorman 2"). ... Lifetime's "Flowers in the Attic" movie was a hit Saturday night, drawing 6.1 million viewers; a sequel is already in development. ... Disney Channel's "Good Luck Charlie" will end its run with a one-hour episode at 8 p.m. Feb. 16. ... Good news/bad news: Fox's "Enlisted" moves to 9 p.m. Friday this week, which might help its ratings, but that means "Raising Hope" moves to 9:30 p.m., which will likely hurt its ratings. … NBC has renewed daytime soap “Days of Our Lives” through the 2015-16 TV season. … Vulture.com reports HBO’s “Looking” opened to a small audience Sunday, drawing just 338,000 viewers in its premiere broadcast, less than half of its “Girls” lead-in. HBO is less dependent on ratings than a commercial network, but, as Vulture notes, HBO did cancel “Enlightened,” which had a similar size audience. … Deadline.com reports NBC is developing a new sitcom to star Bill Cosby, who saved NBC with “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

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