An ode to Boston Legal

If ABC’s promos are anything to go by, you’d think the only shows on that network are Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Lost. But tucked away on Tuesday night is a wonderful show that has been toiling in relative obscurity for three seasons – Boston Legal.

Well perhaps obscurity is a bit strong. The show has been nominated for and won many industry awards (Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Series, baby!), and was recently renewed for a fourth season. Still, it has never been a ratings blockbuster, and even suffered the ignominy of having almost half of the first season postponed until the second season when the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy took over its time slot.

Boston Legal castI never got into the precursor to the show, The Practice, as it seemed a little too heavy-handed and ponderous. But as soon as I got a glimpse into the bizarre world of Crane, Poole & Schmidt I was hooked. These weren’t just the fast-talking lawyers you’ve seen in countless other legal dramas, they were truly warped people moving from one warped situation to another.

The obvious focal points of the show are William Shatner as Denny Crane, the oversexed and politically insensitive uber-patriot, and James Spader as Alan Shore, who as Denny’s protégé alternates between vindictive and slimy one week, then sensitive and gracious the next. The cast is rounded out by some really solid performers (Candice Bergen and Rene Auberjonois chief among them), but there’s no mistaking the fact that Shatner and Spader are the main attractions.

If you’ve never seen the show, I don’t think I can adequately describe it here. But to paraphrase recurring character Jerry “Hands” Espenson – only on this show will you not only find a dwarf and a transvestite with prominent roles, you will find it normal. Some may find the show’s approach off putting, but I find it very refreshing in the face of so many stuffy dramas and stale comedies on TV right now.

The one real negative I can find is that while series creator David E. Kelley’s hands on approach leads to some very memorable moments, it also leads to a lot of grandstanding. Kelley obviously has real problems with things like organized religion and the Bush administration, and he is not shy about injecting his views into the story (usually crystallized in the form of his lawyers’ closing arguments). Yes, this can get a bit tiresome, but it’s a small price to pay for the wicked humor and truly creative storylines we get treated to. To say nothing of the constant meta-references sprinkled throughout many episodes. In a truly memorable one last night, Jerry Espenson admitted that he had a song in his heart. When asked to sing it, he started belting out the show’s theme song, which was then interjected into the opening credits. Awesome.


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