Law and Disorder

Boston Legal takes all the elements of your favourite David E Kelley legal shows and chucks away all the bad bits. Elise Harris judges it guilty of being almost too good

 

The real trouble with Ally McBeal was always the McBeal woman herself; without her and her neuroses, scary skinniness and bizarrely inappropriate fanrtasies the David E Kelley created show would have been almost perfect.

Imagine a show with a similar tone, but with William Shatner, Candice Bergen (last seen in Murphy Brown) and James Spader starring instead.

Boston Legal is a spin-off of yet another David E Kelley legal show The Practice a serious-minded courtroom drama with shades of LA Law. As Frasier was to Cheers, this looks as though it’s going to be equal to its progenitor, possibly even superior.

There is little to fault with the second series of Boston Legal.. The show centres around the law firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt. Bergen is a regular character this series; she’s the previously silent partner Shirley Schmidt who has come out of the shadows now that Denny Crane (Shatner) insists he’s suffering from mad cow disease.

Poole went crazy and was committed very early on, and so is an even more silent partner. Shirley and Denny had a thing at some point in the far distant past and he’s still trying to get her into bed. She does a valiant job of resisting. The real joy of the show, though, is the chemistry between Shatner and Spader. The creators didn’t expect their screen partnership to work so well, and it would be a very perceptive viewer who could have called it. Shatner’s portrayal of Denny Crane almost eclipses all his previous work. You almost forget he was Captain Kirk (almost, but not quite. To forget Kirk completely would be almost impossible. Especially when you get occasional in-jokes. Mention of ‘Klingons’ in the third episode of the new series elicits a raised eyebrow.

Denny is unashamedly right-wing and pro-gun. He is stubborn, arrogant and opinionated. Strangely you find yourself admiring the man for his sometimes mule-headed convictions. He’s not at the top of his game anymore, but he is incredibly passionate in his beliefs, which leads to an interesting closing argument in a case involving the right to bear arms. Spader too is remarkable as Alan Shore. He has put on a little weight and now looks almost the twin of Shatner (despite a 29-year age gap).

Spader has made a career playing slightly kinky good guys with a bit of a sinister streak, and although he’s now added ‘a bit cuddly’ to the repertoire, he hasn’t gone completely against type here. Alan Shore has issues. He is scared of clowns and finds it very hard to sleep alone. Within the first few episodes of the new series his love interest Tara (played by Rhona Mitra of Lara Croft videogame fame, more recently seen as the expressionless investigator Kitt McGraw in Nip/Tuck) is having second thought, after an encounter with an old flame, (played by Rupert Everett). Which leaves Alan in a bit of a vulnerable position. So, with Denny scared of mental illness and Alan terrified of being alone their friendship gets even closer as the series progresses. They are Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, bantering and acting like kids again.

The balcony scenes at the end of each episode are funny, poignant and the best thing about an already great show. The pair talk about the day’s events over good brandy and cigars. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar – but you never know with these two, they are getting awfully close. Although as balcony scenes go it’s hardly Romeo and Juliet. For a start lady-killer Denny is a little jumpy about getting too close – almost every episode has him convinced Alan is trying to get him into bed. He might have a point. Spader and Shatner both won Emmys for their performances for two years running (for lead character and supporting actor respectively) and it’s easy to see why. Betty White (The Golden Girls) originally appeared in The Practice (as did Denny, Alan and Tara). She’s Alan’s assistant Catherine Piper and as the series starts she has befriended an odd little man who killed his mother and neighbour. Alan got him off the charges and Catherine doesn’t believe he’s evil. Inevitably that can only end badly.

Rene Auberjonois plays Paul Lewiston (an occasional character in the first series) joins the show this series. Yes, it’s another good reason to watch. Like Shatner he is a Star Trek actor (he was Odo in Deep Space Nine). Unlike Shatner he has managed to avoid post-show typecasting, possibly in part because he was under layers of latex as Odo. You would know his distinctive voice anywhere. He brings a gravitas and decorum to the firm – things that would otherwise be almost entirely lacking.

There are various subplots with the other good-looking lawyers including Brad Chase (Mark Valley) and new associates Garett (Justin Mentell) and Sara (Ryan Michelle Bath), but you’ll probably want their bits to be over quickly so you can get back to the good stuff. Lake Bell has left (she’s gone on to aquatic adventure show Surface) and Monica Potter appears in the second season briefly – to sue Denny for sexual harrassment.

The cases are usually strange and quirky and, most importantly, entertaining. In an episode later in the series Shirley has to defend an old friend (played by Michael McKean from Spinal Tap) whose wife wants to divorce him because he’s fallen in love with a dairy cow. Another show has senior associate Denise Bauer (Julie Bowen) defending a cosmetic surgeon accused of injecting his own fat into patients’ lips. The episode title 'Ass Fat Jungle' might tip you off to where he’s getting it all.

And on a trip to Canada Denny and Alan take on the salmon fishing industry. Tara clues them into the proper attire for a Canadian courtroom, but they might not have been listening too closely.

Denny Crane-isms

Denny has a way with words, here are some of his more memorable ones from series one

‘We're carnivores. When the pilgrims landed, first thing they did was eat a few Indians. ‘

‘Massachusetts is a blue state; God has no place here’ ‘Pull a rabbit out of your hat; that’s the secret to both trial law and life.’

‘You know what I'm going to do, Brian, just to show you there are no hard feelings? I'm going to sleep with your wife.’

‘I have the mad cow disease’

And last but not least: 'Denny Crane!’

 


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