May. 4th, 2014

Rake

May. 4th, 2014 01:59 pm
leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
Some rather disorganised notes on Rake, the original Australian series (I haven't seen the US version), since it's managed to get me to watch it through 22 episodes now (2 to go), which is almost unheard of for me and TV.

First a warning: it's used trans women, including slurs, as a passing joke, and a crossdressing man and woman (I think? the script didn't make a definitely statement either way) as an on-screen joke. It's been called out elsewhere for using prison rape for jokes too. Which makes it unwatchable for some of my readers. (Not far off at times for me. Knock it off, media.)

Here's the pretext, which will also help you decide if you give a toss: it centers around a grandiose, self-absorbed individual (Cleaver Greene) whose narcissism is justified. Not metaphysically, but merely insofar as the world really does revolve around him, as if by coincidence. All his ex-lovers are still to some degree emotionally tied to him. When his friends, frenemies and rivals can't sleep with him, they all sleep with each other and tell him about it. Opposing counsel all hate him, personally.

And that works about as well as it would on any mere mortal, let alone a mere mortal who, however acerbic and clever, mostly wants a lot of women to like him as often as possible.

As an example, one of Cleaver's antagonists, David Potter (Harry-sorry-David Potter, Matt Day made up to look like Daniel Radcliffe as Harry) is originally introduced as counsel representing the Australian Tax Office, suing Cleaver over tax fraud. But within a few episodes, Harry-sorry-David is both universally known by that nickname, which Cleaver gave him, and he's unknowingly fallen in love with retired sex worker Melissa, one of Cleaver's many one-true-loves. Later, in season 2, a very politically significant figure in multiple countries is killed not by assassination, but in an act of revenge related to one of Cleaver's exes.

I saw a critique of this dynamic in the US version ("there's only ten people living in Los Angeles and they all know each other??") but it really works for Sydney, whose population of barristers is mostly fed by two universities, and whose law students mostly enter as 18 year olds and so many have known each other their entire adult lives. And that's when they don't know each other from high school.

And it's written in the language of Sydney visually. Cleaver lives in Kings Cross, ever renewing red light district, because of course he does. David lives in Lilyfield, later-gentrifying working-class suburb, because of course he does. Everyone went to Sydney Uni, because of course they did. Everyone's kids were delivered by the same obstetrician, because of course they were. (In reality, this one, apparently. In Rake, Sam Neill.)

The first season was very case of the week, with Cleaver serving as barrister to all the most lurid crooks. But one of the reasons I've kept watching is that it hasn't shied away from this question of what happens when the world really does revolve around your cynical and often weak-willed self, including moving well away from its formula. Cleaver's moderately lucrative career as barrister to all of the most newsworthy criminals is not immune to this misfortune. His life is (because it's comedy), and his relationships don't suffer permanently (because that's the conceit, no one can quit Cleaver), but his career is game. The show works for me because at least some of Cleaver's perils are real.

It also works because the acting is really fabulous. Richard Roxburgh has called in all the favours, from all the everyone. (There are only 10 actors in Australia, and they all know each other.) Particular nods to Roxburgh as Cleaver, Danielle Cormack as Scarlet Engels (Cleaver's university-era love-of-his-life, now married to his best mate who is also his usual instructing solicitor), Caroline Brazier as Wendy (Cleaver's ex-wife and mother of his son, who still acts as his therapist). And a few of the one-note characters (Robyn Malcolm as Kirsty Corella, Steve Le Marquand as Col) and many of the guest stars (Hugo Weaving as the cannibal economist, Sam Neill as the bestiality-practicing obstetrician, Rachel Griffiths as the rabal-rousing talk show host, Cate Blanchett as the on-screen version of Cleaver, Martin Henderson as Julian-Assange-by-another-name*)

Which brings me to season 3:

Mostly if you've seen it )

* I am no fan of Assange, but in this universe, a character with that level of fame and self-absorption really works as a foil, and I wish "Joshua Floyd" had stuck around.

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