Cleaver Greene is back in ABC1′s Rake.
And so is Richard Roxburgh as the trainwreck criminal barrister. Emphasis on barrister, Greene insists, not on criminal.
Getting an audience to warm to an anti-hero is never easy. Television lures us back to characters we want to like, but as Hugh Laurie found with Dr. Gregory House, sometimes you can be so damned fascinating that we will overlook the fact we couldn’t bear to be a friend of yours. So it is with Cleaver Greene.
Season Two kicks off with Greene having another sordid affair. This time it’s with the NSW premier in the back of a limo. Played by Toni Collette, she’s an alluring, power-dressed female in a boys’ club. Call me crazy but I doubt she’s modelled on Joan Kirner or Carmen Lawrence.
News of the affair is about to break across the halls of state parliament and the media. Cleaver practically wears it like a badge of honour, another notch on the bed-post. But it cleverly sets up a much bigger arc involving her husband, Attorney-General Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey), that will presumably unravel across the series.
Of course this wouldn’t be a legal drama without a legal case and Cleaver is defending Zuharah (Sapidah Kian), a Muslim woman who’s been charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. Expect lots of discussion about burqas in the courtroom. Roy Billing returns as a magistrate.
Elsewhere, his ex Wendy (Caroline Brazier) has just discovered her new partner has been cheating on her, and he manages to offend solicitor pal Barney (Russell Dykstra) and his wife Scarlet (Danielle Cormack) in his own inimitable style. At every turn, Cleaver’s ego gets him into such strife that you’re waiting for the next car-crash moment. The writers deliver them very well.
On-going nemesis David Potter (Matt Day) is now Shadow Attorney-General, enamoured with more power to quash his foe.
The opening episode deftly juggles the legal and the personal with flashy character moments for a skilled cast.
Roxburgh is clearly relishing this horrendous portrait of a man, and I suspect the challenge is always to make us feel something for him. The show also allows for wonderful guest appearances, and Toni Collette is there boots (or perhaps, high heels) and all as a Premier driven by sex and power.
It’s amply clear the show has arrived with more confidence, assured of its place in the world and its audience.
Rake is a rollicking ride that celebrates its excess. You have been warned.
Rake airs 8:30pm Thursday on ABC1.