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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season
Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // June 2, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Robinson | posted August 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The First Season

In Raising the Bar, Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays Jerry Kellerman. Jerry is a public defender who will bend over backwards to protect clients that he believes are innocent. He is a noble, idealistic individual and tends to clash with the district attorney's office, judges, law enforcement officials, and even his fellow public defenders. He frequently disregards his own personal interests to serve his clients. In the series' first season, there are ten episodes outlining the hardships Jerry faces in the courtroom, as he continually deals with a tough judge and a conniving district attorney's office. Overall, it is a pretty solid drama, although Jerry's constant quest to do his clients right feels over-the-top as he begs the same people to grant his latest client leniency.

As mentioned, Jerry Kellerman is a young public defender. He is straight as an arrow and wants nothing more than to give his clients the best representation possible in a corrupt legal system. He frequently pushes the limits and at the same time burns bridges as he goes against the grain. Many of his peers and opponents were his law school classmates. This aspect is one of the important foundations to the characters' relationships. They were friends and sometimes help each other, but at the same time fight it out in the courtroom. For example, prosecutor Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller) and Jerry have a very close relationship. As the season begins, it is revealed that they are romantically engaged. However, their clashes in courtroom tend to cause problems for them.

The other folks in this show are made up of Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek), a judge who only has her interests in mind, which is to become the next district attorney, Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe), Kessler's lover and legal clerk with a secret that causes complications, Nick Balco (Currie Graham), in charge of the district attorney's office, Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards), a prosecutor who does the right thing, Rosalind Whitman (Gloria Reuben), the legal veteran in charge of the public defenders, Richard Patrick Woolsley (Teddy Sears), a young public defender from a wealthy family, and Bobbi Gilardi (Natalia Cigliuti), a public defender from Brooklyn who joins the team early in the season. Overall, the cast is pretty decent and there are some interesting relationships and developments for them as the season progresses.

As for the season content, the episodes tend to be very similar. Jerry is convinced his clients are innocent and getting the wrong end of the legal stick. Or in some cases, they are guilty but getting poorly mistreated by a corrupt legal system. Jerry yells, pleads, and begs for an exception to the rules to give his client a fighting chance. At first, no one wants to listen to him, but they slowly turn over for various reasons, whether for political or personal gain (rarely to do the right thing). These tiresome cases are supposed to highlight the problems with the legal system. In general, the flow of an episode is fairly predictable, which is not a great aspect of the series.

While the majority of season one sticks to a similar format, "Bagels & Looks" is an episode that stands out. This episode is a solid indication of the series' potential. In the episode, Jerry faces one of his most emotionally taxing cases. He is forced to defend a man who is accused of sodomizing and murdering a young boy. Marcus is initially prosecuting the case, but Balco quickly takes over. He wants no mistakes made in prosecuting the child killer. Unfortunately for Jerry and his client, everyone is convinced he is guilty of murder... even when evidence is uncovered showing the client's innocence of the murder (not the rape). It is pretty intense episode, as Jerry really puts himself out there by standing up for someone who admittedly did something very bad.

Overall, Raising the Bar is a good courtroom drama. The stories are pretty interesting and there is a good focus on character development. The only drawback is the show's tendency to stick to the same formula. Lead character Jerry sometimes comes off as whiney, as he begs and pleads for the same fair treatment he asked for in the previous episode. However, there are standout moments like "Bagels & Looks" that take advantage of the series' potential. In the end, Raising the Bar is a solid courtroom drama. However, it is not great in its freshman year. It will be interesting to see how the series progresses in future seasons.

Episode Guide

1. Pilot: While defending a man he is certain is innocent, Jerry struggles to navigate the system while remaining humble in front of a judge who despises him. Meanwhile, in the district attorney's office, Michelle tries to right a wrong in a rape trial but runs up against her boss, who doesn't want the DA's office to be embarrassed by winning a wrongful conviction.
2. Guatemala Gulfstream: Jerry is defending a family man accused of murder, but the only eyewitness who can prove the man's innocence is stuck in Guatemala. Michelle finally has the chance to try her first murder case after the primary attorney dies unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Richard is defending a young man who is accused of assault in a racially charged case. Charlie runs into problems when a former lover turns up in Judge Kessler's courtroom.
3. I Will, I'm Will: Jerry is defending a mentally ill client, but his case hits a snag when Judge Kessler orders him to quickly find a suitable in-patient program. Richard defends a woman who got into an altercation at the welfare office after they failed to get her welfare check. Now she's facing a five-year sentence and, if convicted, won't be able to take care of her grandmother who counts on her.
4. Richie Richer: Richard's extremely wealthy father offers Roz a job at his high-profile firm. Jerry defends a destitute mother whose arrest may be part of a police tactic to pressure her into testifying in a murder case. Richard and Bobbi team up on a murder case in which the suspect was defending his property from being stolen. As Judge Kessler continues to position herself as a political candidate, Charlie gets an unexpected visitor.
5. Bagels & Looks: Jerry takes on a tough, emotional case in which a young boy was molested and murdered in an abandoned building. As press coverage raises the heat on the case, Balco decides to take over as the primary prosecutor. Bobbi, meanwhile, is defending a family man charged with possession of heroin, but the physical evidence against him seems non-existent. Jerry finally gets to meet Bobbi's husband, Gavin, but Jerry and Bobbi's playful flirting turns the meeting uncomfortable.
6. Hang Time: Jerry's latest case involves a man arrested for following a hit-and-run driver and then stealing money from him. And in a situation with personal implications, Bobbi handles a complicated case in which the wife in a domestic-violence dispute refuses to press charges against her husband.
7. A Leg to Stand On: When Jerry gets a sign from the judge on the case that it might be better for a bench trial, that's the direction he goes. Little does he know there are politics at play in the background. Meanwhile, Bobbi is defending a veteran who lost his leg in Iraq and now relies on heroin to control the pain. Judge Kessler is called upon by a high-profile favor broker to help in dealing with another judge. Richard gets a little extra attention from his latest client, a law student working her way through school by being a dancer.
8. Out on the Roof: When an acquaintance of Charlie is arrested for distributing ecstasy, Charlie arranges to have Jerry handle the case. Marcus smells something fishy about a young man from Hell's Kitchen copping to armed robbery and eventually finds blood runs thicker than water among the man's Irish family. Michelle calls in a favor from Jerry, asking him to intercede on one of Bobbi's cases. Richard gets a visit from law student/dancer Lisa, who has a special proposition for him.
9. Roman Holiday: Jerry defends an HIV-positive man charged with attempted murder because he spit in a police officer's face. Bobbie and Richard are hard at work defending a 14-year-old who may have unknowingly become involved in a homicide. Judge Kessler plans a vacation to Italy and invites Charlie to come along.
10. Shop Til You Drop: The appeals court overturns the conviction of a black firefighter accused of stealing property from a body found during a fire. So now Roz and Balco find themselves retrying the case in which racism may have played a major part. Meanwhile, Jerry finds out something about Bobbi's husband but isn't sure if he should pass the information along or not. Richard defends an elderly woman accused of kiting checks to pay for merchandise she bought through a television shopping channel. And Charlie continues to deal with the aftermath of a major conflict between him and Judge Kessler.

The DVD

Video:
The video is presented in 1.78 ratio widescreen letterbox format. The picture quality is good. It has a slight grain, which is more noticeable on large television sets, but detail is still pretty sharp and clear.

Audio:
The audio is given in English 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound. The audio track is audible and clean track. Dialogue is easily heard throughout the episodes. There are subtitles in French and Spanish, as well as support for closed captioning.

Extras:

  • Audio Commentaries: are included for episodes "Bagels & Locks" with Steven Bochco, David Feige, and Jesse Bochco, "Out On The Roof" with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigiuti, Teddy Sears, and J. August Richards,
  • Sworn Testimony: True Stories of a Public Defender (13:44): is a featurette with David Feige, supervising producer and co-creator, and Steven Bochco, executive producer and co-creator.. Feige talks about his history. He wrote a book about being a public defender and sent it to Steven Bochco about turning it into a television series. At the time, Bochco did not think it would work as a show. Of course, things changed and they turned it into a show. The featurette continues with more discussion from Bochco and Feige, as well as Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Teddy Sears, Melissa Sagemiller, Currie Graham, Jesse Bochco, Jonathan Scarfe, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigliuti, and J. August Richards. For the most part, it is a pretty standard interview featurette with cast and crew talking about the show.
  • Behind the Bar: An After Hours Roundtable With the Cast (13:15): is an interview featurette with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Teddy Sears, Natalie Cigliuti, J. August Richards. They talk about different aspects of the show from the casts' mentality to specific character personalities to working with David Feige to the show's representation of the justice system to season one storylines.
  • Mistrials: Bloopers From Season 1 (1:54): is a collection of goofs and mess-ups caught on tape during filming.

Final Thoughts:
Raising the Bar is a courtroom drama that comes from the same creator of popular television series such as NYPD Blue and L.A. Law. While the creative mind behind Raising the Bar has certainly produced some fantastic television series, Raising the Bar is not quite there. The series has a lot of potential, which is revealed in several season one episodes. However, it has the tendency to stick to a single formula, which does not always work out for the show's best interests. Nevertheless, there are some interesting cases and the characters are pretty solid. The show has potential. As for this season set, it will make for a good rental.

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