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Meanwhile, In Australia: A Bawdier, Riskier 'Rake'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, a note about television from the other side of the earth, Australia.

A couple of months ago, I found myself watching an American show called "Rake." It starred Greg Kinnear as a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles, a man of many vices and more than a little charm.


BOJANA HARBOUR: (As Mikki) There's no future for us.

GREG KINNEAR: (As Keegan Deane) What future are you possibly contemplating, Mikki? We're done.

SIEGEL: The show, whose first unsuccessful season has come to an end, had some good ideas but it didn't quite work. The show's credits said it was inspired by an Australian series of the same name. An online search led me to it. And in no time, my wife and I became addicted to a funnier, bawdier, riskier, better written, better acted show.

An Australian actor named Richard Roxburgh is the Rake, a barrister whose clients include a very civilized academic who happens to be a cannibal. He's played by Hugo Weaving, and here he is on the witness stand.


RICHARD ROXBURGH: (As Cleaver Greene) Did your wife, Annie, know anything about your assignation with Sebastian Carrie?

HUGO WEAVING: (As Professor Graham Murray) No. Nothing. I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I'm not a killer. I'm an economist. (Crying)

SIEGEL: Two seasons of Australia's "Rake" are available through Netflix and a third season recently ended on Australian television.

To find out more about this program and what happened when it crossed oceans, we've called Ben Neutze, who writes for the Daily Review in Melbourne. Welcome to the program.

BEN NEUTZE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, how big is "Rake" in Australia?

NEUTZE: Oh, it's massively popular and it's got brilliant reviews through all three seasons.

SIEGEL: Richard Roxburgh's character, Cleaver Greene, is self-destructive. He gambles, he philanders, he drinks, he does drugs.


SIEGEL: And he pulls it off this part, he challenges the audience to like him and he takes it all the way to the edge. What happened, as you seen it, when it crossed the Pacific to the United States and became Los Angeles-based "Rake?"

NEUTZE: Well, I think it hasn't had any major sweeping changes. Most of the characters and the situations are clearly recognizable from what they were in the Australian version. But around the edges it just feels like it's been softened a little bit.

SIEGEL: Softened a little bit.

NEUTZE: Yeah. Particularly in the way that the main character is presented. The original pilot of the U.S. version was originally that cannibal episode, the American equivalent of that Hugo Weaving one, where they had the main character begins the series in quite a dark emotional, mental and physical state. And the producers had decided that that was just too dark place to start for the American audience, so they filmed three episodes leading up to that one.

SIEGEL: They felt that that just would have been too much of a downer to begin the series with, you're saying.

NEUTZE: Yeah, definitely. That's emblematic of the bigger problems with the show that never feels like it's committed to the type of show that it wants to be. There's an attempt to give him something redemptive at the end of each episode.

SIEGEL: You mean in the American version they just can't risk making Greg Kinnear quite as unlikable as Richard Roxburgh is willing to make his character in Australia.


NEUTZE: A lot of the reason that Richard Roxburgh gets away with it is that he just has bucket loads full of charm. And I think in the Australian version there's always the sense that he is a genius underneath all his madness, whereas I didn't really get that sense from Greg Kinnear, as talented as he is.

SIEGEL: There's also a dimension of self-loathing about Richard Roxburgh's character, which I think is a little bit - it's almost emotionally too complicated for an American TV show but it's remarkably nuanced and he does it. He pulls it off.


SIEGEL: As I mentioned earlier, I found the Australian show to be not only better acted, but also better written than the American show. Are they written in the same way? Is the American system different from the Australian system?

NEUTZE: It's slightly different. The writers' rooms in Australia are not the size that they are in America. Obviously having a massive, massive team is very successful for a lot of shows in the States, but you have to wonder if it could be one of those instances of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

SIEGEL: Well, Ben Neutze, thank you very much for talking with us about the Australian television show, "Rake."

NEUTZE: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Ben Neutze writes about television and other subjects in Melbourne for the Daily Review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.