This comedy drama is a sequel or replacement, or spin-off TV series from The Practice (1997 – 2004), also created by David E. Kelley, who is probably best known to British viewers as creator of the popular Ally McBeal (1997 – 2002). The Practice was about lawyers in Boston, and reportedly featured both William Shatner and James Spader as guest stars.
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Here, they get their own show as the unlikely and yet tremendously entertaining double-act of Alan Shore and Denny Crane, respectively. They are sharp-suited, arrogant barristers. They are boastful womanisers. They are gifted legal eagles with a knack for ensuring that obviously guilty criminals go free, and for winning ethical civil cases worthy of media hype. They are intensely funny, but often conflicted, frequently smug in a sad way, and tragically stupid men. They are the business…
Every humorous TV show needs a straight man, and the thankless task of playing senior manager, Paul Lewiston, falls to Rene Auberjonois (perhaps best known to all viewers for his role as alien shape-shifter Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). His gravely voiced intonation and sober demeanour is perfect casting as dramatic foil for Shore and Crane’s comedic shenanigans. Monica Potter (of Saw) portrays the legal offices’ smart and omni-competent blonde, Lori Colson, with a cool but certainly not icy assurance. Eye-candy for the boys is Sally Heep (Lake Bell, who is unfortunately written out of the show after a dozen episodes, perhaps due to the actress’ complete lack of chemistry with any of her male co-stars?) and Tara Wilson (British starlet Rhona Mitra, a transfer from The Practice). Eye candy for the girls is Brad Chase (Mark Valley, a square-jawed ex-serviceman and Gulf War veteran). Those are the other good reasons for watching Boston Legal, but Alan Shore and Denny Crane (repeat, with feeling, ‘Denny Crane’) stubbornly remain the show’s primary assets.
The law firm’s name is ‘Crane, Poole and Schmidt’. We meet senior partner Edwin Poole (Larry Miller) in the series’ first episode, but he’s soon gone, wheeled out the door on a paramedic’s gurney and shipped off to the funny farm after a total psych breakdown. After Crane (yes, ‘Denny Crane’, of just say my name, infamy) is established as the dominant head-case, the TV programme’s makers knew they would need a bankable someone of undoubted screen presence to contrast with, or complement, the portly Shatner, and so classy Candice Bergen (Soldier Blue, Carnal Knowledge, Starting Over, Rich & Famous) was recruited as the superbly brash Shirley Schmidt, a formidably spirited businesswoman capable of trading sarcastic barbs and amorous jibes with eternally-teenage septuagenarian Denny Crane. Although she does not join the Boston Legal party until halfway through season one, Bergen’s quietly dynamic Schmidt is a most welcome addition to the team, and definitely worth the wait.
What makes Boston Legal work surprisingly well as TV entertainment, is the mix of engagingly comedic and affecting character-based drama, fielded with scripted material tackling many notable issues of the day, from the legal system’s burden of frivolous litigation, to astute dissections of everything from sexual harassment to capital punishment. This is the show that introduces the world’s most unlikely (despite being plainly inspired by Norman Bates) serial killer, and a judge who is all-too-easily corruptible. Its courtroom battles and witness quizzing clashes take more controversial angles on objectionable issues (from ‘mad cow’ disease, and a transvestite Santa, to cryogenic euthanasia, and a hypochondriac suing his doctor for malpractice) than any straightforward cops, docs or lawyers drama has dared in recent times. Boston Legal also enjoys the dubious privilege of hosting the first ever, satisfactory guest appearance (and I never thought I’d say so), from Freddie Prinze Jr!
If you’re as bored as I am with the stupefying realism of all the courtroom dramas currently showing on British TV, give this anarchic, button-pushing series a try.
The DVD boxset has 17 episodes on five discs. Extras include deleted scenes and commentary tracks, plus two exclusive (yet self-explanatory) featurettes – Court Is Now In Session: How Boston Legal Came To Be, and An Unlikely Pair: Alan Shore And Denny Crane.