The degree to which viewers will enjoy the new Fox series “Rake,” based on an Australian series of the same name and premiering Thursday at 9 p.m., will depend on how high their threshold is for watching a charismatic, talented person repeatedly sabotage himself while trying the patience of those around him.
Going a long way toward making that trope palatable, and quite charming, is Greg Kinnear as lawyer Keegan Deane, who is the rake of the title —
Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine”) manages to winningly wear Deane’s misguided and narcissistic sense of entitlement, dangerous gambling addiction, and sly legal maneuverings with a combination of weariness, desperate denial, and congeniality that makes it sometimes understandable why the people in his life put up with his nonsense.
Those people include his ex-wife Maddy (Miranda Otto), who clearly takes some enjoyment from Deane but is mostly disappointed in his unreliable parenting of their teenage son Finn (Ian Colletti), who may be learning from his dad’s ways to his own detriment.
He has also worn out his welcome at the home of his best friend Ben (John Ortiz) where he has been crashing. Ortiz is terrific as the married-with-children buddy who has clearly derived some vicarious enjoyment out of being debauchery-adjacent to Deane and his boozy babe-bedding, but is running out of patience. His wife, Scarlet (Necar Zadegan), an assistant district attorney who sometimes faces Deane in court, is past the boiling point.
Deane’s beleaguered assistant Leanne, a very funny Tara Summers (“Damages”), remains loyal mainly because she needs a work visa; and his only steady date Mikki (Bojana Novakovic) is a no-nonsense prostitute who still makes Deane pay for her time although it’s clear she cares about him.
In the premiere episode — which is not actually the pilot, which will be shown later in the series and was darker in tone — Deane is coping with his bookie’s enforcer, hauling around a giant tuna, and defending a confessed serial killer.
It’s clear in the legal scenes that Deane is smart, capable, and has a glimmer of a sense of justice. That he would choose to turn that glimmer into a spotlight to shine on himself via cable news is a small but crucial insight into the character and his struggle to do right for its own good and not just his own.
Kinnear is skilled at showing how this behavior can be comical until it is not, at crystallizing the point at which playing it fast and loose becomes pitiable, even when you pull out the win. After taking a beating from the enforcer Roy — whose genuine fondness for Deane doesn’t keep him from doing his job — he is asked if he is hearing the message about paying up. Deane, bloodied after having his head bashed into a wall responds, “Not great out of this ear, but yeah.” It is a deftly written and performed retort that sums up his need to crack wise even when wisdom has clearly departed him.
The people in his life continue to accommodate him, and if Kinnear and the writers keep up that delicate balance, viewers might as well.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.