Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars in Raising the Bar as a crusading public defender whose passion gets him in as much trouble as it gets him out of. As Jerry Kellerman, Gosselaar (NYPD Blue) is damp-eyed and earnest, off-kilter and rebellious (indicated by taking his tie off whenever possible), but he’s one of the top lawyers of a firm headed by cool-as-a-cucumber Rosalind Whitman (Gloria Reuben, ER). He also has connections across the aisle with rising prosecutor Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller, Sleeper Cell), a beautiful blonde who tolerates sleazy behavior from her boss Nick Balco (Currie Graham, Suddenly Susan). Both Jerry and Michelle regularly appear in the court of loose cannon Judge Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle), who’s having an affair with her clerk, Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe), who just happens to be gay and closeted. Clearly, Raising the Bar emphasizes behind the door machinations, both political and sexual.
It’s familiar stuff, which is both a strength and a weakness. For fans of producer Stephen Bochco (creator of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, and much more), Raising the Bar will work like comfort food. Each case unfolds capably, with thorny moral conflicts and compromising private interests, complicated by human weakness and bureaucratic callousness. Maybe too capably; the gears spin so smoothly it’s hard to get emotional traction with the characters, whose personalities seem secondhand from other legal shows. Entertaining histrionic cross-examinations abound, as do wild case-saving coincidences and compassionate looks between lawyers and defendants. The 10-episode collection of Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season also has an engaging featurette focused on the show’s other co-creator, David Feige, a real-life public defender whose experiences are the series’ inspiration. Feige's genuine enthusiasm and engagement may inspire viewers to give the show a chance. --Bret Fetzer
Stills from Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season (Click for larger image)