Rake (Netflix): a cheeky, morally ambiguous Australian comedy


Thanks to popular demand among the loyal Any Good? fanbase, this week I began to delve deep into the depths of a smart Australian legal-comedy: Rake. All 5 seasons are currently streaming on Netflix and if you're wondering whether it's worth getting into here's what Any Good? has to say about the very first season.

When I first sat down to watch Rake on my little Dell laptop I thought "oh dear... is this going to be yet another boring and uninventive legal drama?" It's up there as a genre I've never really felt does enough justice to itself (pun intended). This particular legal drama is more along the unscrupulous lines of Better Call Saul than Suits. A successful lawyer, faced with some irrefutably guilty defendants, stops at nothing to help them evade a sentencing.

Straight away you'll notice that the production value isn't exactly through the roof, even for something made in 2010. Because of that, the overall tone becomes a little tricky to grasp at first glance. Is it trying to be hilarious or is it trying to be grounded? More comedy or drama? But I persisted, wondering if an appeal would reveal itself.

It did. The thoroughly air-tight writing absorbed me, the appeal lay in its ability to somehow be both funny and subversive. The identifiable Australian deadpan humour that I know and love gradually expressed itself in the form of a legal drama about a successful lawyer who loves his job but unapologetically hates himself. And unlike Better Call Saul's Saul Goodman, Cleaver Greene is very successful at work. Just absolutely nothing else, and he’s fine with that.

Upon first glance Rake seems a little too slow for something of this calibre. It grows on you. Specifically, Cleaver (charismatically played by the baddie from Moulin Rouge!) grows on you. He's a character with apparently no moral high ground, but you care about him all the same because there's possibly something behind that facade of amorality. Although he's a bit of a prude, his emotional wounds reveal an accessiblility about him.

His professional life is ideal, successful and squeeky clean. His personal life is one of corruption and mischief. He's addicted to just about everything under the sun. Sex, drugs, alcohol, betting, tax fraud, gambling, you name it. He cares about the law, but he's unconcerned with the justice it represents. In fact, he appears to care very little about anything at all. Rake presents a mixture of a genuinely flawed character like us with ironically jabbing the moral backbone of the legal systems of our world. How can such a morally ambiguous man stand to uphold justice?

What makes it all the more enjoyable are the fun celebrity cameos that serve to bolster Cleaver's charismatic legal battles as hilariously uncouth defendants. The Matrix and Lord of the Rings' Hugo Weaving rocks up as a world-renowned economist-turned-cannibal. Jurassic Park and Peaky Blinders' Sam Neill makes a turn as an idealistic obstetrician with a compromising DVD in his bag. There’s the man he must defend having been charged with sexual misconduct with the family dog, someone married to two people at once and season two even promises the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and Hereditary's Toni Collette.

Like any good TV show you need to give Rake a little time. I can't say I was instantly hooked by the rather leisurely paced first few episodes but, Rake is worth getting past that for.

The chief message at this point seems to be that successful people don't necessarily have a successful personality too. In fact, Rake seems to revel in compromising that aspect of idyllic upper-class expectation. Seemingly perfect, rich and successful people are simultaneously terrible people and Rake has the guile to unrelentingly go to that place and never leave.

Any Good? Of that crime, Rake pleads guilty.

All 5 seasons of Rake are available to stream now on Netflix