If the Rake series premiere suffered from a bit of an identity crisis, “Close Shave” reveals a show that’s decided what it wants to be, at least for now. And it definitely comes down on the side of light ‘n wacky, as the darker aspects of Keegan Deane’s character have been dialed back almost to the point of nonexistence. The result is a breezy enough way to pass an hour, but hardly appointment viewing.
The legal case of the week is, if anything, even more absurd than last week’s serial killer romp, as an Amish elder is attacked by three young members of a breakaway sect who become Keegan’s latest clients. The Amish are often the go-to comedy religion on TV, and Rake doesn’t skimp on the usual jokes about beards and buggy whips. The situation isn’t played entirely for laughs, but it barely skims the surface of the central conflict. The bishop is trying to bring a young Amish woman back to Pennsylvania, ostensibly because her parents believe she’s being held against her will, but actually because he doesn’t approve of the L.A. sect, the members of which use modern technology like horseless carriages and smartphones.
In any case, the young Amish men were not attempting to murder the bishop, but merely trying to shave his beard as punishment in accordance with their religious tradition. (They also make delicious baked goods, which become a running gag, as Keegan uses them for everything from tools of seduction to recommitment ceremony gifts.) In another courtroom appearance in which he’s basically allowed to ramble on at will, Keegan establishes that the bishop himself has used this form of punishment. The members of the L.A. sect are cleared of the attempted murder charge, but sentenced to six months for assault, after which they and the bishop instantly forgive each other. See, there’s more to the Amish than barn-raisings and funny hats.
Another running gag throughout the episode is Keegan’s fear of commitment, which isn’t exactly a character trait brimming with fresh, unexplored possibilities. With his car now crushed into an undrivable cube, Keegan resorts to a Lyft-like transportation app. His driver is an attractive young woman named Brooke (Alexandra Breckenridge) who instantly has the hots for him just like every other woman in Los Angeles. Brooke’s interests include the law, sex, and gambling, which would make her the perfect woman for him if he didn’t fear he was being set up. That turns out not to be the case, but alas, their short-lived relationship cannot survive Brooke’s quickie with Ben’s father Arthur.
That brings us to the other major storyline of the week, in which Ben and Scarlet plan a recommitment ceremony and Keegan tries to talk them out of it. The episode hits its comedic stride during the party for the ceremony, with Kinnear doing his patented tightrope act between charm and smarm. (I particularly enjoyed Keegan’s banter with Ben’s mother Frances, which basically gave us their whole history in the form of a few traded insults.) We learn that Keegan and Scarlet have a past, however fleeting, and that dynamic will no doubt come into play sooner than later, what with Ben and Scarlet not actually going through with their recommitment (albeit due to circumstances beyond their control).
It remains to be seen whether Rake will stick with this featherweight tone or pull a sort of bait-and-switch by delving into murkier territory as the show goes on. Given that a partially reshot version of the original (reportedly darker) pilot is set to air in a few weeks, the latter is possible. But if “Close Shave” is representative of the series going forward, Fox and the creators appear content to settle for mild amusement.
- I could have used the phrase “running gag” at least three or four more times in this review. There’s also the one about how he never actually ends up having sex with his favorite prostitute Mikki and the one about how he never actually ends up getting a beating from his bookie’s legbreaker Roy and the one about how the mayor has it in for him, resulting in “random” full body searches at the courthouse and... at this rate, Fox will be able to hold a “write your own Rake episode” contest by week four.
- Ratings for the first episode were something of a letdown given the cushy post-Idol timeslot. Anti-hero fatigue, lawyer fatigue, or both?
- “You remember Snow White? The girl you tried to poison with the apple?”