C-

Rake: “Cancer”

C-

Rake

"Cancer"

Season 1, Episode 3

A title like “Cancer” doesn’t exactly suggest a laugh riot of an episode, yet Rake had an opportunity this week to mine the titular topic for some pitch-black humor. It doesn’t exactly work out that way. Instead, the show sticks with the same tone of mild amusement it seems to have settled for, with diminishing returns. 

You know you’re in trouble when the main character addresses the celebrity guest by his full name, followed by a purely expository comment letting us know why we should recognize said guest. In this case, Keegan is sitting at the poker table with Tony Hawk, his son Finn’s “favorite skateboard legend.” To understand how a quality show would handle the exact same scenario, we need only look back to The Sopranos, which featured no shortage of guest celebrity poker players, but usually relied on us to figure out who they were (as in David Lee Roth’s appearance, in which he mentions that he used to write off condoms), or identified them with a bit more panache (like Paulie Walnuts addressing Frank Sinatra Jr. as “Chairboy of the Board”). Maybe this sounds like a small, nitpicky matter, but I don’t think so; it’s very much indicative of the way Rake underestimates its audience at every turn.

At least Hawk’s appearance does service a plot point (I won’t claim it serves as showcase for his heretofore undiscovered acting skills), as Keegan has offered him up as an auction item for Finn’s school fundraiser. Kee blows it by gratuitously trash-talking the skateboard legend at the poker table, leading to yet another scene in which a windfall of cash ticketed for one of his loan sharks never gets there. In this case, it’s because he overbids on an auction item, partly to make up for his blunder and partly to one-up his ex-wife’s new husband. For his $12,000, Keegan gets a bench decorated by third graders and, indirectly, a new apartment courtesy of his loan shark’s aunt.

It’s remarkable how quickly Rakes recurring bits have grown stale. We get another appearance by Kees favorite hooker Mikki in a scene that serves almost no purpose except to let us know, yet again, that he owes money all over town. And we get another fleeting love interest of the week in the form of Finns English teacher, although this one promises to be a two-parter in that Kee, for the first time, fails to seal the deal immediately. 

The case of the week gives the episode its title. Keegan thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he meets his new client, a single mother of two boys, the younger of which has cancer. Except he doesn’t really: She’s defrauding her insurance company by faking doctor’s reports and shaving her boy’s head and eyebrows. Worse yet, she’s been cashing the insurance checks at the local casino and gambling the money away. By all rights, this should be the least sympathetic character of all time, but it’s a tribute to actress Annie Mumolo that she instead comes off as mostly confused but well-intentioned.

I’ve already given up on expecting any kind of satisfaction from the courtroom scenes, because they’re so untethered from reality, they come off like videogame cheat codes. This week’s was the worst example yet, as Keegan’s closing argument basically amounts to: “We are all addicted to something, and casinos are kind of predatory, therefore let this woman get away with massive insurance fraud.” Naturally, it works. It’s as if Rake is saying, “Keegan is a brilliant, silver-tongued lawyer, but we’re not really up to the task of demonstrating that, so why don't you just take our word for it?" 

The supporting cast is basically in a holding pattern this week. Ben has daddy issues. Scarlet is the co-chair of the school auction and has some sort of rivalry with her fellow chair, but that's barely developed. Leanne is… well, competent and British. It’s still very much Greg Kinnear's vehicle, but Rake is already running on empty.

Stray observations:

  • One big reason this week’s case didn't work for me: Do insurance companies actually cut big checks for cancer treatment directly to the mother of the patient? In my experience with medical insurance, I never see any of that money—it’s all between my doctor’s office and my insurer. 
  • How about that CGI establishing shot of the casino? Was that a cut scene from a 10-year-old Grand Theft Auto game or what? 
  • Where have I seen Finn’s teacher Stacy Mullen before? On Parks And Recreation, it turns out, where Jama Williamson played Wendy Haverford.