When we last saw Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) he was dangling under the hot air balloon his best mate Barney (Russell Dykstra) was in the basket of as they sailed across Sydney Harbour. A metaphor for their relationship - nobody in control and the friends inexplicably connected as they drift off into the sunset.
The first episode in the return of RAKE for season four finds us picking up the pieces of that fateful balloon ride and setting up for a whole new story of dystopian, demented fun.
Barney has been manufactured in to a hero by a dogged media for his balloon trip across the Tasman Sea. Cleaver accidentally crashes into a dinner party that reveals one of New South Wales's most wanted criminals and his former mentor Edgar Thompson (John Waters) is back in the country and the subsequent media coverage reveals him to police. Edgar and Cleaver have quite the relationship, and one Edgar is not going to let Cleaver forget.
The revelation of Thompson's arrest sends a shockwave through State politics - past and present. This presents a serious problem for David "Harry" Potter (Matt Day) and an even bigger problem for Cal McGregor (Damien Garvey). As for Cleaver... well he's basically screwed.
There's also the matter of Barney's broken relationship with wife Scarlett (Danielle Cormack) and new relationship with Nicole (Kate Box), along with Scarlett's burgeoning tryst with David. Also the line of women at Cleaver's side - and in his wake - is something to behold. Plus Finn (Keegan Joyce) proves the apple has fallen so close to the tree it's got he father's bark embedded in the skin, and Cleaver's first love Wendy (Caroline Brazier) continues to fall in and out of love with our lothario protagonist. Don't even start on how a messed-up Missy (Adrienne Pickering) & new love Felicity (Jane Allsop) fit into all this.
It's all the bawdy chaos of the past seasons and more, and fans will be well pleased with the continuation of the series. Despite fears everything had wrapped up in a neat little package at the end of season three the creative team have delivered our favourite anti-hero squarely back in the shit from the get-go ensuring Rake rule #1 continues to be proven true: nothing is ever simple for those connected with Cleaver Greene.
The return of the core cast ensures our favourite characters are given full voice through this new set of adventures. Roxburgh, Dykstra, Cormack, Day, Pickering et al all provide additional new layers to their very familiar characters that ensure the surprises continue, and the new/guest cast including John Waters, Sonia Todd, Tasma Walton and Justine Clarke fall gracefully and perfectly into this debacle. Miriam Margolyes deserves special mention for bringing her extra-special of servings of mischief and whimsy to the deliciously sharp barrister Ms Huntley-Brown.
Integrating ABC talent and shows to cement the series in the modern day plays very well throughout the series, including a moment with one character being exposed by the real Paul Barry on Media Watch. "Fucken' smug ABC arsehole! Where the fuck did they get that from?".
To live in Cleaver Greene's world is to experience all manner of debauchery and disappointment, punctuated by glimpses of ecstasy. Where before he's managed to extricate himself from all manner of mishap and misunderstanding there's no escaping the consequences of his actions catching up with him - and we're all the better for it.
Like a fucked-up dinner party with old friends where no topic is taboo RAKE is back and it's so, so good. Welcome back Cleaver, and thanks for nearly screwing everything up again.