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Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Raising the Bar" DVD Review: So Much More Than Just Hair

When I spoke to Mark-Paul Gosselaar a few weeks ago about his series, “Raising the Bar,” he seemed frustrated that the media had paid so much attention to his hair. He even seemed to think that people had ignored some of the best aspects of the show because they were so caught up with his hair.

I have to admit that I didn’t think that anyone was so caught up that they could actually ignore anything about the show. But then I read something in this week’s “Entertainment Weekly” that actually made me sad…

Ken Tucker wrote, “If like me, you didn’t watch ‘Bar’ during its debut season partly because Gosselaar’s floppy tresses distracted you from believing his idealistic Jerry Kellerman character…”

Are you serious? He didn’t watch because of someone’s hair?

His loss. Because “Bar” is classic Steven Bochco with great characters, great drama and a great cast. And now you can see that for yourself with the release of season one on DVD…

If you’ve never seen it, “Bar” follows the lawyers of the New York Public Defenders’ Office and the district attorney’s office. They may be on different sides of the law, but in the end, they’re still friends. Gosselaar is Jerry Kellerman, who will do anything for his clients—no matter what they may have done. Surrounding him is his boss, Roz (Gloria Reuben) and fellow public defenders Bobbi (Natalia Cigliuti), and Richard (Teddy Sears). On the other side of the fence are his friends Michelle (Melissa Sagemiller) and Marcus (J. August Richards) and their boss, Nick (Currie Graham). Jerry’s other friend, Charlie (Jonathan Scarfe), is the law clerk for Jerry’s nemesis Judge Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek).

The season starts out a little uneven but by episode four, it’s really hit its stride, and by the end of the 10 episodes you will be so completely hooked that you’ll be ready to run outside and take on the world to save the little guys…

The best episodes are the ones that really challenge you to sympathize with the public defenders, like when Jerry represents a man who confessed to raping a child, but is innocent of killing the child.

Yes, sometimes the show gets a little too righteous for its own good, and sometimes the cases wrap up a little too easily. But in this day and age, don’t we all want to see the good guys win every now and then?

Plus, there are enough interesting personal subplots to help round out the show, including Jerry’s love life and the flirtation between Roz and Richard. Some of the characters—especially Nick and Roz—were very flimsy in the beginning, but thankfully, by the end of the season they’re a little more fleshed out.

The DVD contains all 10 episodes from the first season, plus a very short blooper reel and two featurettes. One featurette, “Sworn Testimony: True Stories of a Public Defender,” lets us hear from the man who helped inspire the show, former pubic defender David Feige. Hearing from him really does help explain how public defenders can do their jobs. The other featurette, “Behind the Bar: An After Hours Roundtable With the Cast,” give us a chance to hear most of the cast talk about the show, their characters and some things that go on behind the scenes—like cast members sneaking into Gosselaar’s trailer to play Rock Band. Sadly, this featurette is a little short, because I could listen to them talk for hours. Thankfully, the same cast members are back to do commentary for one of the season’s strongest episodes. Even though the drama is pretty serious as Bobbi represents a boy willing to take the fall for his older brother, I laughed through the entire hour as the cast members joked about the show, each other, and yes, Gosselaar’s hair. Graham, especially, is a hoot to listen to.

If you’re into more serious commentary, there’s also one with Feige, Bochco, and their fellow Executive Producer Jesse Bochco.

If you’re looking for good drama presented by great actors, then “Bar” is exactly what you’re looking for. Yes, Gosselaar’s hair can be a mess, but if that’s all you’re interested in, you’re really going to miss out.

And don’t worry, he cuts it in season two…

“Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season” is available now…

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