Politics is a shambles everywhere at the minute, a problem to which Australia is not immune – public spats and constant leadership changes have made us a laughing stock among our allies. Luckily, Australians are masters in the art of self-deprecation, and have just the character to make light of these tumultuous times.
Freshly sworn-in as a Senator to Federal Parliament, ex-barrister Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) is ready to fulfil his election mantra of saying and doing nothing, only to have a change of heart and decide to stand for something. His penchant for attention and outspoken ways places him in contention with another Senator, the conservative populist Penny Evans (Jane Turner, Kath & Kim) who often jostles with Cleaver for publicity. On the other side of the spectrum is David Potter (Matt Day), Cleaver’s former nemesis, whose dedication to social justice riles the government to no end.
Guiding Cleaver through the unfamiliar, fraught territory known as Canberra is Nicole (Kate Box), his long-time assistant from his lawyering days, and a brand-new addition to the series: Jakub (Jacek Koman), the taxpayer-funded chauffer. Well-informed and resourceful, Jakub acts a middle-man for Cleaver, keeping the hapless parliamentarian informed and making sure he is presentable for all engagements. Thanks to his two minders, Cleaver is primed to make an active contribution to public life; but that’s before a terrorist incident befalls Parliament House, leaving everybody in a state of bewilderment.
The fifth, and final, series of Rake is unmistakably the weakest of the show’s run. Laying the uneven groundwork for proceedings is the first episode, “Greene v The World”, which is simply a case of too much, too fast. In addition to providing exposition for an entire season and the terror attack on Parliament House, it introduces a conflict involving the U.S. Secretary of Defence – a short-lived role played memorably by Anthony LaPaglia – that looks to be the pivotal to Cleaver’s story, only for it to be resolved the very next episode.
As the series progresses, more players from years past – including Missy (Adrienne Pickering), Wendy (Caroline Brazier) and Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey) – become entangled in the shenanigans, allowing it to closer resemble the Rake of old; hence, it isn’t until the fourth episode that the programme truly hits its stride, with Cleaver’s cunning finally coming to the fore. Rare though these moments are, seeing Cleaver fight for the underdog and get the better of his adversaries proves elating, just as it did when the show premiered.
It’s also pleasing to see so many faces returning to the series – among those not already namedropped include Roy Billing as the Senate President, Michael Denkha as the lip-reading Roy, Steve Le Marquand as former enforcer Col, and Miriam Margolyes as the doting barrister Ms Huntley-Brown. The only person to not make an appearance is Russell Dykstra as Barney, whose absence is explained by a move to Sardinia. Of the newcomers to Rake, it is William McInnes who delights most as Gareth Morrow, a Machiavellian member of the ruling government.
Ultimately, Cleaver’s move to Canberra is not just to be a sparring partner for the likes of Morrow, but to satirise Federal politics, doing so impressively. With Malcolm Turnbull being ousted the week of the premiere, nobody thought Rake could out-farce current events; much to everyone’s surprise, it did exactly that, with no less than four changes in Prime Ministership in a matter of weeks. Further to that, allusions are made to Australia’s diplomatic relations with its friends and neighbours, with Cleaver often hilariously finding himself caught in the middle of a crisis.
Despite failing to match the calibre of episodes past, the fifth series of Rake is a fitting conclusion to one of the best programmes Australia has ever produced, effortlessly poking fun at our elected representatives whilst continuing to document the mishaps of its ever-charming star.