Raising the Bar

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Raising the Bar TV Poster Image
Legal drama for grown-ups has more soap than grit.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series highlights the problems that exist in the legal system, but a lot of the focus is on the personal and often inappropriate relationships between the different people involved in that system. The cast is primarily Caucasian; Whitman and McGrath are African-American. The majority of defendants are people of color.


Frequent discussions of criminally violent behavior, like assault and murder, as well as criminal sexual behavior, like rape and castration.


Some strong sexual innuendo, including references to homosexuality and homophobia. One prosecutor consistently makes inappropriate sexual remarks. Female characters are sometimes seen wearing nothing but towels.


Language includes words like "bitch," "screw," and "douche bag."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Visible consumption of alcohol, including whiskey, vodka, and other hard liquor. Some strong references to drug (marijuana) use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this soapy, adult-targeted legal drama -- which focuses on the professional and personal lives of a group of public defenders, prosecutors, and other players in the New York City legal system -- includes a notable amount of sexual innuendo. Viewers can also expect strong language ("bitch," "douche bag," etc.), discussions about violent behavior (assault, rape, murder, etc.), frequent drinking, and references to illegal drug use.

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What's the story?

RAISING THE BAR follows the professional and personal lives of a group of public defenders and criminal prosecutors in the New York City legal system. Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars as Jerry Kellerman, a sloppy-but-passionate public defender who, under the guidance of boss Rosalind Witman (Gloria Reuben), will stop at nothing to serve his clients' best interests. Working alongside him are idealistic Richard Patrick Woolsley (Teddy Sears) and tough newcomer Bobbi Gilardi (Natalia Cigliuti). But their efforts are often sidelined by criminal prosecutors like Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards) and Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller), who, since they work for sharp-but-sometimes-unscrupulous assistant D.A. Nick Balco (Currie Graham), must be relentless and win cases. In the courtroom, both sides must wrestle with the Honorable Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek), a difficult judge who's committed to the legal process rather than to people. Adding to the drama is Kessler's secretive law clerk Charlie Sagansky (Jonathan Scarfe), whose personal relationships impact his legal aspirations.

Is it any good?

The series explores some of the cracks in the legal system, which often negatively impact members of underserved communities. It also looks at the complicated relationships between criminal prosecutors and public defenders. But most of the show's focus is on the characters themselves, many of whom seem to have a problem keeping their personal lives and feelings separate from their professional obligations. As a result, the series is more soapy than edgy.

Raising the Bar -- which was created by award-winning producer Steven Bochco -- is a little overdramatic and looks a lot like the highly stylized crime series of the '80s and '90s. And thanks to strong language, sexual innuendo, drinking, and drug references, it isn't for kids. But it still tells a decent, character-driven story and will provide some good entertainment for mature viewers looking for a new crime series to sink their teeth into.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether shows like this one offer an accurate picture of what the legal system is really like. Are court cases really this dramatic? Families can also discuss the roles of judges, public defenders, and prosecutors. How do lawyers defend alleged criminals, even if they think they're guilty? How do attorneys work with judges? Can people who work for opposing sides of law really be as "social" as they're depicted here?

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