Complete Second Season
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All photos © TNT
Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “Raising the Bar” premiered on TNT in 2008, it was all but eviscerated by many critics. Here at Bullz-Eye, however, we were a bit more forgiving: while we freely admitted that it wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, we still found it to be a pleasant enough diversion, thanks to a solid ensemble filled with familiar faces. Still, in our review of the show’s first season, we hoped for two things from Season Two: that there’d be less emphasis on the personal and more on the courtroom drama between the public defenders and the D.A.’s office, and that Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) would get himself a haircut. The show made good on the latter before the second season premiere was over, recognizing the valid observation of both the characters and the viewers that Jerry would probably get a heck of a lot more respect if he’d just lose some of the locks. On the matter of personal matters, however, while “Raising the Bar” didn’t necessarily shift the balance to favor the courtroom, it did manage to throw in some surprises into the lives of the attorneys and judges that worked a bit better than what was offered in the first year.
In Season One, Jerry was sleeping with Michelle (Melissa Sagemiller) and Bobbi (Natalie Cigliuti) was having troubles in her marriage. Given that Jerry and Michelle were playing for different sides in the courtroom and that the sexual tension between Jerry and Bobbi was decidedly conspicuous, you knew that the latter pairing would end up coming to pass before too long. What you almost certainly didn’t expect, however, was the way things came to an end between Bobbi and her husband, but suffice it to say that it put a temporary hold on anything happening between her and Jerry. As for Michelle, Season Two found her pursuing a relationship with a police detective, and, well, let’s just say that it only goes slightly better than the one she had with Jerry.
You may also recall that, when we last left “Raising the Bar,” Judge Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek) had learned that her assistant, Charlie (Jonathan Scarfe), was gay, which really put a damper on all the closed-door sex they’d been having. They managed to salvage their professional relationship, however, and by the end of Season Two, Kessler even finds herself a boyfriend, although – no surprise here – it isn’t without its troubles. Although Charlie doesn’t find himself a beau, he does develop an interesting friendship with the new arbitrator in town: Judge Albert Farnsworth, a character that John Michael Higgins imbues with some highly entertaining eccentricities. In the end, Charlie’s personal life still ties very tightly into Kessler’s, with each of their storylines ending with a cliffhanger that, alas, will never see resolution. (Sorry, fans: TNT pulled the plug on the series at season’s end.)
Not all of the new storylines work quite as well as the ones cited. In particular, the decision to send Rosalind (Gloria Reuben) down a path where she wants to adopt the baby of a deceased client felt painfully hackneyed. Still, during the course of Season Two, “Raising the Bar” managed to hit a few episodes completely out of the park, and if they could’ve maintained the quality of “No Child’s Left Behind” and “I’ll Be Down To Get You A Taxi, Honey,” the show might still be on the air. The latter features a strong story about a husband who, in a fit of anger, accidentally runs down the lawyer who’d screwed him out of a settlement and left him nearly destitute, but it’s the former that will really hit parents where it hurts. In “No Child’s Left Behind,” a naïve father posts a cute photo of his naked son on his “social networking” page (it’s clearly supposed to be Facebook), the photo is swiped and placed on a child pornography site, and the father is the one being prosecuted. While it’s admittedly a very stupid thing for a parent to do, it’s horrifying to watch as this guy is being run through the ringer and realize that there but for the grace of God go you – and, yes, me, too.
No, it’s not terribly surprising that “Raising the Bar” didn’t last longer: it was a pleasant show, but unlike TNT’s other series, it didn’t really have a hook that stood out. Still, given the fact that Season Two found some improvement over Season One, it still feels like a shame that we didn’t get to see how Season Three would’ve been.
Special Features: This set underlines the rule of thumb that most series that are canceled in their second season tend to run rather thin when it comes to bonus material, but while some might shrug at the fact that Season Two only comes with deleted scenes, fans of “Raising the Bar” will find them fascinating, as they offer a few character tidbits which never actually made it onscreen. Arguably the most notable of these is the revelation that Nick Balco (Currie Graham) has a daughter, a fact that was set to emerge during “No Child’s Left Behind” and would’ve explained why he was so unabashedly gung-ho about pursuing a “guilty” verdict on the case. Perhaps the producers thought it would make him seem too human, thereby lessening his impact as the show’s villain? The world may never know.