I knew going in "Raising the Bar" would not be case-driven, which allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. However, as a heavily character-driven series, there was very little character growth despite the great potential for it.
First, let's look at the titular "four girls"…
As an actress, I did not find Grace to be bad in her debut performance in "Overachievers. Yet, she and the character left a sour taste in my mouth and I dreaded seeing her here, especially as she was paired up with one of my favorite actors. Thankfully though, I liked her much more here and only had one major problem with her performance. Giselle did not learn English until she was in 8th grade, yet her English is perfect. I have a lot of trouble believing she could learn at such a stage without even a hint of an accent.
Jeannie comes off heavily pretentious in her performance early on (then again, it is in-character) but becomes likable and more natural in the second half. I also loved the character's fun but still professional wardrobe the times her outfits weren't dominated by huge bows.
The wedding storyline with her and Jayden is the most jarring of the series. Holly already knew Jayden was cheating. Even more confusing was Jayden's perspective. He did not get Holly pregnant, is a self-proclaimed player, and was not a rich son being pressured to get married by his parents. Why marry her then? What gives guys? I am however vey relieved the writers did not put her into the love triangle with Grace and Louis, instead opting for her to be the friend who observes the obvious attraction the two had for each other and trying to push them together.
Now the titular "Three Bars"...
The three bars refer to the three law firms, headed by mentors Ben, Elaine Yiu and Ram Chiang, and Timothy. All have minimal screen time, and unfortunately the one with the most is also the most irritating and unnecessary to watch.
Ben surprisingly has a few very comical moments in the series, but for the most part has little to do. I did like the balance between him being shown to be very professional and intelligent at work, yet still rather laid back with friends and at home.
No complaints on Ram's character and performance as the kind and lighthearted solicitor Woody Lam here, other than he does not get enough screen time. But then there's his firm partner Elaine Yiu…
Elaine wins the award for least likable lead. On paper, the character is already hard to warm up to, always giving everyone including her own husband the stink eye, except bookstore owner Don. Vivian is unsympathetic, cold, and treats an otherwise great and understanding husband unfairly. Their affair was incredibly unnecessary and a waste of time that could have been allocated to the development of the four girls instead. Performance-wise, she perpetually gives everyone the resting bitch face and like Natalie, seems to think acting professional means acting cold and pretentious.
And finally, the two guys…
It would have been amusing if the Chinese title was translated to "Four Girls, Three Bars, and Two Boys." It is not, which does not seem fair to Louis and King's characters, but I digress.
With that said, Quinton is still perfectly lovable enough. Having portrayed many heavy semi-vilain roles lately, Louis appears very comfortable and laid back here. It was nice to see a quirky and playful side of him, especially when he would lovingly talk to his plants and speak about aliens to his parents. I enjoyed his scenes with Grace. The friendship turned mutual romantic feelings came about rather organically. I loved when he playfully pushed Grace to admit she is "Black Angel" with the stuffed bear (which ended up in hilarious awkwardness for him when she gives it to Brittany). Louis makes Quinton a very endearing character to watch even though the writing of the character leaves much to be desired.
blunt lawyer with a crush on Ah Fa. I loved whenever he wasn't afraid to speak his mind in situations even when not exactly appropriate. (For example, the scene where he suddenly yells at the girl who flushed her baby down the toilet that she had given birth to a kid, not a piece of BBQ pork honestly had me laughing so hard). I was sad to see his screen time was significantly reduced by the final episodes.
Louis and King round out the dominantly female friend group well, and make the friendship aspect more dynamic. I loved the scenes the two shared together, especially whenever they would make fun of each other about the girls they had feelings for.
The few cases that the series manages to churn out are either boring, convenient (such as the case of Brittany's family friend getting acquitted of assault against his mistress with CCTV footage), or sloppily concluded (such as the compensated dating and rape case). As a result, I'm still looking for another great legal drama from TVB.
As for the series itself, the script apparently decides they want to focus on the friendship of the four girls and to a lesser extent, the two guys. I would have been welcoming of that, only this focus on friendship is largely on superficial things like them going on trips together (Do pupils and trainee lawyers have that much free time?). I don't doubt they are all great friends, but it is all skin deep and fails to show any deep connections. This is not necessary for a series in general, but I believe this is necessary for a series that decides to be so character and friendship-driven, or else you have little of any substance.
"Raising the Bar" ends up being the stringing together of some entertaining and fun scenes between the core friend group and some bad story lines. The cast is too large, which led to a strange allocation of screen time. After 23 episodes of not doing much, the finale also strangely decides to shove in a large rape case against a main character, a parent's death, another parent dying of illness, a wedding, and two surprise cameos from Tony Hung and William Chak. Other than that, the series is easy to watch while easily forgettable. This is the norm for TVB lately, but what makes it disappointing in this case is that it could have been something much more.
Rating: 3 stars