Jumping the shark. When has your favourite television show ever gone too far? Bolstered by popularity, there comes a time in a program’s lifespan when: rather than fading credibly, the storyline is drastically altered in lieu of logic and reason.
After four seasons of legal finesse, lauded ABC dramedy Rake has replaced the misdemeanour of Sydney’s courtrooms, with the plush, satire-ready, carpets of Canberra’s federal parliament.
Since 2010 Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) has fallen from pit to pit of dishonour as a destructive criminal barrister. After almost a decade of failing himself, his family, his friends, his colleagues, but seemingly never his clients, the conclusion of 2016’s season four collided with Greene’s election to the Senate. Through an amusing mix of voter’s mistaking Greene for The Greens and a mass donkey-vote, Cleaver’s rise to power was an unworldly night-cap to a series that had, albeit fabulously, teetered on the edge of unbelievable.
The plotted shambles over the first four seasons aside, the final season’s reckonings of Cleaver Greene commence one year after Greene has taken up his seat on the Senate cross-bench. His once suffering legal secretary Nicole (Kate Box) is now the independent Senator’s suffering Chief of Staff. His ex-wife Wendy (Caroline Brazier) is managing, with strained normality, housing her son Fuzz’ much older partner Missy (Adrienne Pickering) and their young child. Added to the family mess, Missy is also a former prostitute turned lover of Cleaver.
With his personal life still in shambles, Cleaver’s move to the nation’s capital brings about a comparable mess. A believable caricature of modern politics, Rake’s Canberra based series comes complete with backstabbing politicians, faceless numbers men and women and mouthing-off shockjocks.
One of the smartest and most delightful programs in modern Australian television, Rake shattered the trodden ground of procedural and everyday family dramas that have fatigued viewers. Balancing the formulaic “case of the week” with serialised character development in which lawyers, politicians, crime-bosses and others went from good to bad, but always lovable.
Co-creator and star Richard Roxburgh was a masterclass in larrikinism. At some points it almost seemed as though he would wink through the screen as Cleaver engaged in act of misbehaviour, be that criminally illegal or another forbidden romantic fling. While the glint in Roxburgh’s eye glistens in this latest season, it’s glean is almost a bit to bright. The cast might be having just a bit too much fun. Season five has traded smartness and causality for far-fetched storylines. Within an hour, the first episode poses to the audience an extra-extraordinary concoction: a failed terrorism attack on Parliament House resulting from a bursting sewerage pump and a rogue sex-hungry foreign politician are coupled with Cleaver’s move to parliament. Even in a week where Australia has welcomed yet another Prime Minister, such fables seem overtly ridiculous.
Moving the series to Canberra was meant to wipe the slate and raise the stakes. Stripped of its more genuine elements, such as Cleaver mitigating family life with drug dependency, Rake now appears as a spin-off of itself. Cleaver is as devilish as ever, his loved ones are still afflicted by his adult incompetence and his detractors are still vehement. Yet, what was once a glorious and witty shambles, trudges along as a smorgasbord mess. New characters, including the Hanson-esque Penny Evans (Jane Turner) and other political entities, are overtly outlandish with little development. Meanwhile, an array of returning, fleshed out cast members are relegated to the background. Sadly shunted due to a Sydney location, former NSW state politician and adversary of Greene, Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey), is now a mud-slinging right-wing late-night TV host.
The ABC must be credited for its originality. While beige rules at commercial networks, the public broadcaster continues to create content unafraid to push boundaries. Insane as the plots are, Rake provides a welcome satire of our political state that one can only laugh at ourselves.
Rested for two years, the conclusion to Rake’s first incarnation jumped the shark. The landing it has made skimpily avoids the jaws of the distracted 21st Century television watcher. In spite of insanity, charmed loyal viewers, like myself, will watch on in frustration as Cleaver Greene completes his final season of misgivings. Returning to more believable, yet thoroughly unbelievable times, we will then head to Netflix to rewatch it all.