the early word

Pilot Preview: TNT’s ‘Raising the Bar’ Perverts the Justice System

Courtesy of TNT

This week, Vulture’s taking a look at the best and worst of the fall season’s picked-up TV shows. Which are good? Can anything replace Cavemen? And, most important, what’s worth a DVR season pass?

Title: Raising the Bar

Stars: Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved by the Bell), Gloria Reuben (ER), Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Melissa Sagemiller (Sleeper Cell)

Network: TNT, premiering in late 2008

The pitch: Everyone in the New York legal system is in bed with each other — literally and figuratively. If Law & Order and Melrose Place had an orgy with Ally McBeal, this would be the unholy offspring.

Pilot report: Idealistic public defender Jerry Kellerman (Zack from Saved by the Bell, with the Unabomber’s hair) lays it all out in the first act: “I’ve got a no-forensics rape case with a crappy family alibi and the A.D.A. won’t listen to a word I say. So in about an hour I’m going to defend an innocent guy in front of a crazy judge,” he tells his boss. Thanks for the exposition! But really, it’s so much more complicated. Kellerman doesn’t mention to his boss that he’s sleeping with the A.D.A. (Sagemiller) or that his best friend (Jonathan Scarfe) is a clerk for the crazy judge (Kaczmarek) with whom he is sleeping — despite the fact that he is actually gay. But then, he probably didn’t need to: Kellerman’s boss (Reuben) is, along with seemingly everyone else in the justice system, an old pal. Of course, Kellerman and his pals are too upstanding to allow their friendships to pervert the course of justice. Unless it’s for a really good cause.

Representative dialogue:

Michelle: What are you doing?
Nick [staring at Ernhardt’s cleavage]: Just daydreaming about a heart-healthy breakfast. Two perfect, swollen mounds of creamy white yogurt, each topped with a pert, succulent raisin.
Michelle: Have you even heard of a hostile work environment?
Nick: Santucci v. Sussman, 8th circuit, 1997: “Even unusually vivid descriptions of foodstuffs do not, as a matter of law, constitute harassment for purposes of a Title Seven claim.”

Breakout star: If we were coerced by a detective to pick one out of a lineup, we’d go with pretty, gap-toothed Sagemiller, who somehow appears in three dimensions while the rest of the cast is stuck with two.

Worth a season pass? Maybe. As creator Stephen Bochco’s record (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) proves, The People love a legal drama. This one might even stand a chance, especially if it develops characters other than Kellerman, who comes across as strident instead of earnest and crazy instead of passionate. This is probably because Gosselaar’s sole method of conveying emotion seems to involve deeply furrowing his brow, an expression that, by the way, is taking its toll. Soon he’ll look like Alan Rickman. —Jessica Pressler

Pilot Preview: TNT’s ‘Raising the Bar’ Perverts the Justice System