Raising The Bar: The Complete First Season
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (19th August 2009).
The Show

Surprise, surprise, another courtroom based drama, no other segment of the programming market is as overcrowded as the corner in which legal dramas reside and, unfortunately for producers Steven Bochco and David Feige, the new series "Raising the Bar" doesn’t really have the chops to be a standout winner. The series doesn’t take viewers to places that they haven’t already been with more tenured (and now, in most cases, long finished) programming like "Law & Order' (1990-Present), "The Practice" (1997-2004) and "Boston Legal" (2004-2008) and, ultimately, aside from retraipsing others steps, I don’t really see what the show has to offer.

The basic premise is fairly simple: a group of former law-school friends are now battling each other in court; some are Public Defenders, others work for the DA's office. The show focuses not only on their relationships inside the halls of justice but outside them as well. The cast is comprised of some notable faces including Zack Morris himself, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and the always wicked-but-entertaining Jane Kaczmarek (who plays a hardnosed judge vying for political office to perfection). The lineup also includes Currie Graham, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigliuti, Teddy Sears, and J. August Richards; each puts forth an above average performance.

I watched the show’s pilot on TNT because, as the promos so obviously and incessantly stated, Emmy award winner Steven Bochco produces "Raising The Bar". I had to give it a glimpse if only because basically everything else the man has brought to TV is at least moderately good. I watched the pilot and was disappointed. Not only did the show not seem to be any good, the pilot had to be one of the worst I’d ever seen. I stand by my belief that the premiere episode isn’t any good and that it is in fact downright awful. But, looking past to the remaining 9 episodes for the first time (I hated the pilot so much I had no intention of watching anymore and I didn’t – at least not until this review), the show is undeniably watchable. Like most courtroom centered shows, time seemingly flies by with the proceedings book-ended by some character development. Each 45 minutes is up in no time, not exactly because what was in those three-quarters of an hour was so good, but because I’m so used to the format. I’ll give "Raising the Bar" its due – the show is well written, the actors are believable in their roles and the series has excellent production values – but other than that nothing is overly extraordinary.

I guess the shows one saving grace is that most courtroom procedurals have gone by the wayside in recent months – "Law & Order" likely won’t be on for much longer (it seems closer and closer to cancellation every season) and reruns have seemingly vanished from TNT. So, with fewer repeat marathons of my favorite Dick Wolf series on TV and even less new programming in the same vain available, "Raising the Bar' may actually have staying power simply because it’s on and American TV audiences love the genre. Not that the show really deserves to continue on – it’s far from bad, true, I’d just rather watch a rerun of "Law & Order", personally. I’d basically get the same out of it too.

"Raising the Bar" features all 10 episodes of the series’ first season, on 3 discs, including:

- "Pilot"
- "Guatemala Gulfstream"
- "I Will, I’m Will"
- "Richie Richer"
- "Bagels and Locks"
- "Hang Time"
- "A Leg to Stand On"
- "Out on the Roof"
- "Roman Holiday"
- "Shop Till You Drop"

Video

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Raising the Bar" has a respectable transfer for standard definition DVD. With a rich, warm color scheme the image is welcoming and surprising for a legal drama, which you would expect to be cold, calculated and desaturated. The wood-laden courtroom interiors are inviting, with both reasonable depth and detail. Skintones are accurate. The picture isn’t overly grainy or riddled with noise. While this is hardly the best TV on DVD release I’ve ever seen – even as of late –it’s also far from what could ever be considered terrible. The series looks nice, if (expectedly) not as good as the HD broadcast on TNT.

Audio

ABC offers up an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on "Raising the Bar", encoded at 348 kbps. The show sounds perfectly fine for a dialog-heavy, front focused mix. Speech is clear and easy to understand. But this is also nothing overly exceptional. Surround channels are rarely, if ever, used. Bass presence is non-existent and this just isn’t anywhere near an immersive experience. I can’t fault the DVD for staying true to the original source, but the original source is thoroughly mediocre. I did notice a one-off volume issue – the second episode starts out way too loud but it calms down and, to my knowledge, loudness issues don’t happen after that point (at least I never noticed any again.)
Subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Nothing out of the ordinary, ABC compiles a decent supplemental package for this 3-disc set. "Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season" features audio commentary on select episodes, multiple featurettes, bloopers and a collection of bonus trailers. Unfortunately, a majority of the video-based content is not enhanced for 16x9 widescreen displays which is even more annoying given the fact that the featurettes were shot in 1.78:1 but remain window-boxed in the center of the frame.

DISC ONE:

Pre-menu bonus trailers are included for:

- "Army Wives: The Complete Second Season" runs 1 minute 21 seconds, presented in 4x3.
- "Confessions of a Shopaholic" DVD and Blu-ray spot runs for 2 minutes.
- "The Proposal" runs 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Cheri" runs 1 minute 17 seconds.

DISC TWO:

There are a lone pair of audio commentaries on disc two. The first, a discussion with the series’ producers and director, is lifeless, boring and highly technical (plus it contains tons of unwarranted praise on the cast and crew) – the participants also pause far too often with gaps of silence fairly common. The second offering is a sit-down with the actors – this is lively, informative and all around more enjoyable. Commentaries include:

On the episode “Bagels and Locks” with series creators Steven Bochco and David Feige, and Bochco’s son, occasional director of the series, Jesse Bochco.

The second track is on the episoide “Out on the Roof” with actors Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Currie Graham, Gloria Reuben, Natalia Cigliuti, Teddy Sears, and J. August Richards.

DISC THREE:

"Sworn Testimony: True Stories of a Public Defender" is your standard making-of featurette. Bochco and Feige discuss the origins of the project, Feige’s legal experience and the cast and crew. Runs 13 minutes 44 seconds.

The second featurette on this disc is far better, "Behind the Bar: An After Hours Roundtable with the Cast", running 13 minutes 14 seconds, is a breath of fresh air compared to the stale EPK-like featurette above. The roundtable format makes for breezy, natural discussion with cast members Sears, Cigliuti, Richards, Gosselaar, Kaczmarek, and Graham.

"Mistrials: Bloopers from Season One" is a short blooper reel. It runs 1 minute 54 seconds.

bonus trailers are included for:

- "Raising the Bar: Season Two" TNT promo. 30 seconds, presented in 4x3.
- "Army Wives: The Complete Second Season" runs 1 minute 21 seconds, presented in 4x3.
- "Confessions of a Shopaholic' DVD and Blu-ray spot runs for 2 minutes.
- "The Proposal" runs 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Cheri" runs 1 minute 17 seconds.
- "Disney Blu-ray" promo runs for 1 minute.
- "SOAPnet" promo runs for 30 seconds, presented in 4x3.

Packaging

Packaged in a 3-disc amaray case with a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

The Show: C Video: B- Audio: C Extras: C Overall: C

 


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