with Yvonne Lai
Without doubt, American producer Steven Bochco had a successful run of television series but it's been a decade and a half since he made his name with LA Law and by the looks of his new legal drama, his glory days are well behind him.
Raising the Bar (Sony Entertainment Television; Wednesdays at 9pm) is a middle-of-the-road courtroom procedural about defence attorneys fighting for their clients while equally motivated prosecutors try to put them away. Like The Practice, the series takes a look at both sides of the courtroom by focusing on a group of law school friends who battle each other in trials and, afterwards, get together for drinks. But for all the youth and clumsy idealism of the main character, Jerry Kellerman (Saved by the Bell's Mark-Paul Gosselaar, here sporting bad suits and bad hair), the show's attention to social issues is tepid at best.
Unlike Bochco's mid-1980s to mid-90s legal hit, which dealt with hot topics of the era such as Aids, homophobia and abortion, Raising the Bar seems primarily interested in exploring the idea that lawyers who work together, play and sleep together. While that premise worked just fine in the hands of David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal), the inter-office sexual tensions of Raising the Bar move rapidly into cliched pairings within the first couple of episodes.
The one exception involves the character of Judge Trudy Kessler, which Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) plays with caustic confidence. She's a hardliner who isn't above putting Kellerman in jail to teach him some courtroom respect. As the first episode more than hints at, she's not immune to the charms of her much younger law clerk, Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe; ER), whose life outside the courthouse promises interesting complications ahead.
Elsewhere, Food Lover's Guide to the Planet (Nat Geo Adventure; Saturdays at 10.30pm) takes us to Istanbul, Turkey, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Daytime abstinence finds its balance in the evening feast - or iftar - when friends and families break their fast together. As the locals sit down to a traditional meal, we follow each dish through its history and ingredients, visiting artisanal producers of pide (flat bread), pastirma (cured beef) and gullac (above right; a delicate dessert made with pasta sheets, milk, honey and nuts). The half-hour episode is a feast for the eyes and the curious mind.
Food Lover's Guide, now into its second season, was conceived as the diary of a foodie for Gourmet Magazine. The show retains the attention to the written word; and, as the local hosts are often food writers themselves, the commentary possesses a certain poetry. The words are often as delicious as the dishes being featured, making for a celebration of consumption and the people who do it so well.