When Cleaver Greene was sent to prison at the end of Season 2 of Rake, I have to admit that I was pretty dubious about how the next season would play out. Surely they’d have to think of some legal fandangle that would have Cleaver waking up to find it was all a bad dream— a lame cop-out, of course, but I couldn’t really picture how Rake could go to prison and still be, well, rakish. I am pleased to report that I have far less imagination than the creators of the show, who in Episode One of Season Three, have turned everything upside down in Greene’s world, while somehow managing to keep all the key players and themes firmly in place.
Our return to the improbable world of Cleaver Greene finds him eleven months into a fourteen-year sentence. He is in the process of preparing for his High Court appeal— due to take place in a matter of months— and he is busily finding ways to ‘finesse’ the judging panel. He is also trying to side-skip through a few run-ins with his two arch-enemies in prison: George Corella (Bruce Spence), brother of murdered crime boss Mick Corella and amorous ex-fiancé of Kirsty (Robyn Malcolm); and former Attorney General Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey), who is back on the scene with a Vatican-approved vengeance.
In a cheeky reversal of audience expectations, the show begins with Cleaver waking up from a nightmare in which his appeal is overturned, resulting in a few moments of jubilant freedom, before Greene’s arch enemy, David Potter (Matt Day) shoots him to death. Cleaver wakes up to find that, yes, it was all a bad dream. But then, yes, he is still in prison.
Despite the dramatic change in location, all the key elements of Rake are still in play, only now they’re wearing prison garb: Cleaver still jeers at the TV, except that this time he is sitting in the crowded prison dining hall rather than sucking back a beer at the pub. He still has awkward conversations with Wendy (Caroline Brazier) and Fuzz (Keegan Joyce), except now the discomfort is legitimate because they’re in the visiting rooms of Minimum Security and Cleaver is dressed in something that resembles a straight jacket. Cleaver still has bizarre, misguided sexual dalliances in his ‘boudoir’, although in Season Three there are minor adjustments to the scenario. And of course, he still showcases his silver tongue in whip-smart ‘courtroom’ procedural scenes, where we end up as confused and/or delighted as the judge and the defendant. Suffice it to say, that even though Cleaver’s in prison, Rake still serves up its regular mix of sex, drugs and life-without-parole. (I blame the show for putting me in the mood to write a pun like that).
The success of Rake is attributable to a broad collection of highly talented storytellers, but in this, the opening episode of the third season, three main strengths are undeniable: the writing, which is off-beat, clever, and so funny; the casting, which provides characters who inhabit their players from the moment they enter the screen and, (and this is probably connected), the astounding performances of all of the actors. Every performance is pitch-perfect and so authentic. Richard Roxburgh is immaculate, but the rest of the cast is too. (A special mention has to made of Dan Wyllie and his hilarious portrayal of Malcolm, Cleaver’s Anthony Callea-wannabe cellmate.)
It is quite a big ask of an audience to completely uproot itself and move with a show’s characters into an entirely different environment, but the strength of Rake’s writing and the believability of its characters makes the transition surprisingly painless. Admittedly, there are a few moments when the camp factor goes beyond the usual level of credulity, but none of us seriously expect this show to bare any resemblance to reality. Or at least I hope we don’t.
It’s hard to say how long the prison gig will last before audiences start to crave the good old days of debauchery, (drunk Cleaver is always the funniest and most self-destructive version of Cleaver), but for a new season shake-up, it’s a lot of fun, and it really works. It seems that the scene is set for another brilliant season with Rake.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Rake screens Sunday nights at 8.30pm on ABC1 and is also available on iView.