OT: Rake- the remaking of an Aussie classic

Regular Guest blogger, KatharineD, shares one of her favorite Australian TV series, and discusses its modification for American TV.

One of my favourite Australian TV shows from the last few years is a little gem called Rake– each series is only eight episodes long, but the writing is high quality, so I haven’t minded (too much) waiting two years in between each outing. It’s a dramedy about a brilliant but dissolute Sydney  barrister, loosely based on the life of Charles Waterstreet, who’s what we choose to call a ‘colourful character’, and is one of the show’s co-creators. It’s one of those shows where you’re laughing one minute and crying the next at the vicissitudes of life.

Other than great script writing, what sets this series apart is the quality of the cast, headed up by Richard Roxburgh as the titular rake Cleaver Greene. Now Roxburgh is well known on the stage here, acting in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Uncle Vanya with Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving which drew great acclaim both here and in New York. Over the course of two series which have aired, guest appearances have been made by Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Toni Colette, and Rachel Griffiths. I’ve just read that Cate Blanchett will be playing a guest role in the third series which is about to go to air, her first TV part in fifteen years, and done as a favour to her old theatre buddy Roxburgh, who is one of the show’s co-creators.
Richard Roxborough

Richard Roxburgh

Some time back it was announced that the series idea had been sold to the US, and would be remade for American audiences. Now that’s a very rare occurrence here, and I’ve only found two instances previously- Kath And Kim, which was a great original comedy, but was rooted in a very particular view of Australian suburbia. The US version was apparently dreadful, and failed to comprehend what made the original funny in the first place. The other is Wilfred, which has had success with Elijah Wood as the lead on the cable channel FX.

When I heard about Rake being taken offshore and given a makeover, my first, second and third thoughts were NO, don’t even think about it. A big part of it’s charm lies in it’s setting- Sydney isn’t small, but there are very distinct interwoven threads of life in the big city law firms and state politics, which provide many of the comedic elements in the plot. It’s a world centred on a specific part of the city, and I can easily recognise nearly all the locations.

 

I had the vaguely surreal experience of watching one of the episodes and suddenly realising I was looking at a very familiar site indeed- the high school my sons attended was used for several key scenes. The US version is set in LA, with Greg Kinnear taking the title role. I watched the opening episode, and then did a rewatch of the Aussie original, and I can already see changes in tone and dynamic, even though one of the original creators, Peter Duncan, has had a hand in the new version.
Greg Kinnear

Greg Kinnear

One of the fears was that US audiences wouldn’t warm to this particular anti-hero- Can our Rake survive the US culture? This is not a character looking to be redeemed- he’s unrepentant in his myriad failings, lurching from one crisis to another while pulling off intermittent glorious wins in the courtroom. ‘US culture loves it’s heroes, and one of the biggest challenges,…..is keeping the main character’s personality flaws intact’. US Rake seems to feel the need to spell out the humour, as if it’s afraid to trust to the audience’s intelligence. It airs on Fox network, and I haven’t seen any of the casual nudity or swearing which the original uses to great effect to underscore just how much of a shambles Cleaver’s life is. He’s a man who loves too much, loves all the women in his life, but can’t figure out how to make a relationship work.

Already the ratings aren’t looking good, and to be honest, I wanted to enjoy the American version, but really didn’t. I’ll give it a couple more tries, but I wish they’d just decided to air the original in prime time and let the audience decide. Apparently it’s being shown on DirecTV’s Audience Network, but I have no idea how widely accessible that is. Here is an interesting article on the Aussie Rake, highlighting the fact that Americans don’t often get to see original overseas series-‘There has always been a tacit embargo on what American audiences get to see of the world’. Rake quietly dazzles with it’s sharp writing and subtle performances’. If you can chase it up, I urge you to give the original series a try- Richard Roxburgh makes one hell of a charming rake.rake3

19 thoughts on “OT: Rake- the remaking of an Aussie classic

  1. Thanks Katharine. I watched one episode of Rake with Greg Kinnear and couldn’t decide if I liked it too much, but I plan to give it another chance. I’ll look out for your version though. I think a great many Americans wish that we could just get the original versions right off the bat.

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  2. Thanks Katharine, very well written post. I don’t know this series at all. I always wonder why Americans have to do “their” version of a good series. Like Broadchurch – Gracepoint. Why can’t they watch the original ones as anybody else in the world? I understand some nuances can be hard to get, but usually a great series is great “just” for those subtleties. Perry, is there a reason to do so, economic one apart?

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    • The whole remake idea is touched on in the second linked article- it’s as if US networks are afraid to give the originals a go. It’s probably the only TV market in the world that can afford to take that attitude- we couldn’t afford to remake everything here, but then neither would we want to.
      We’ve always had a good mix of series from around the world here, although we do have a quota of hours that have to be filled with Australian content, otherwise TV channels would get even lazier and flood our TV screens with cheap imports even more than they already do.
      I read a comment on a TV review site that suggested US audiences don’t like to hear other accents, with the exception of a show like Downton Abbey which airs on PBS which has often aired British shows, I think.

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      • I meant to add that it’s very hard to replicate the tone of a show, so it’s very possible to miss the mark on what made the show successful to begin with.
        I found quite a number of articles detailing the many and varied ways that remakes have completely stuffed up along the way. Successes like The Office are few and far between.

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      • Same situation here. Perhaps I can’t evaluate – or better, do a comparison – Italian situation because we watch a dubbed product, bypassing any language problem Americans could have with the accent. Our own productions are usually so poor that when I watch a BBC or ITV series I always wonder how it can be so incredibly well done. We had a great tradition in the past but, as everything regarding Italy, it’s only in the past. Oh dear, I’m getting depressed… 😦

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      • Was that a comment about accents or a researched article? I ask because I have a hard time believing that when it comes to Australian and British accents. A fair number of American shows have Aussie and British characters, and these days, voice overs and newscasters are on occasion British or Aussie. I think it has more to do with the content, especially when it comes to comedies, and also the idea that merely transplanting a show means essentially putting a re-run on prime time TV. Those shows that are imported are usually on smaller cable channels.

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        • I was only replying thinking about dubbing, so to the possible problem of Americans and accent as Katharine said. Sorry there is a little mess on our replies.

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          • I think dubbing would be out of the question, especially if the cast were speaking English. I don’t think the accent is the problem, but I will concede that sometimes understanding face-paced British comedy can be a challenge. The same is true when I see certain types of British theater, for example, Tom Stoppard.

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            • Yes, in Italy there is a problem with British humor. Italians (not everyone, luckily…) have a vulgar and crass sense of humor, totally opposite to British one. To let TV people understand some jokes and nonsense a la Monty Python is almost impossible.
              The discussion on different TV is very interesting. We should try to do a proper debate. 🙂

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        • I tried to link a screenshot, but couldn’t- I’ve sent you the details. I suppose there’s a big difference between one or two odd accents, and a show filled with them. I can’t judge the veracity of any of this, so I’m interested in your views. Why couldn’t an overseas show be aired first on network TV? I can see this one would have difficulties because of nudity and swearing, but other than that, couldn’t it air on FX?

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  3. Thank you for another interesting post Katharine. I didnt know there was a US version of Rake, and my reaction is the same as yours…nope! As far as I’m concerned there can be only one Cleaver Greene and RR is brilliant in the role. I’m looking forward to the new series starting this weekend. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Mezz. I’d sort of forgotten about it for awhile, but now I know it’s about to come back on I can’t wait. I’m doing a rewatch of season one on iview.

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      • Love, love, love Rake. One of my favorite TV shows. His dry wit skewers everything & everyone under the sun! Thanks for writing about the comparison with US version Katherine, hadn’t read any other reviews of it yet. I think I’d find it hard to watch another version of Rake objectively. Looking forward to the start of the Australian 3rd season tonight.

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