‘Boston Legal’ prepares to close its doors
On Monday will be the final episode of “Boston Legal,” the David E. Kelley series that, among many other things, found a way to revive William Shatner in a way one previously would not have thought possible.
Now, it’s a crime that I did not write about the masterful ending of “The Shield” and yet I am somehow finding time to reflect upon what is obviously a much lesser show, but that’s just how the ebb and flow of blogging — or at least my blogging — works. (I had plenty of thoughts and strong feelings on the election we just had, and I watched untold hours of coverage and analysis all year, but I did not feel like throwing myself into the discussion. Sometimes you have the energy, and sometimes you don’t.)
I must confess to having a soft spot for “Boston Legal,” despite its obvious flaws. It does what it sets out to do fairly well. And that seems to be, like “The Practice” before it, to provide a (liberal) soapbox for writer/creator David E. Kelley to preach from while showcasing its quirky cast of characters.
I watched the first season and a half of “Boston Legal” before letting it fall by the wayside because of other viewing habits. But I picked it back up in January when I finally joined the DVR revolution.
Why do I like “Boston Legal”? Well, for one, it’s genuinely funny. I laugh at the antics, because the dialog is sharp and the cast is usually able to pull off the show’s outlandish situations. (Take, for example, Jerry’s hilariously executed muffin-throwing incident from a few weeks back.) Also, the political arguments in the show are thoughtful and provocative, albeit frequently pushy and one-sided. Kelley is not afraid of making it clear that he’s unabashedly partisan, and I respect that. (Perhaps I find I can respect it more because I’m kinduva lefty-liberal myself, but there you go.)
And, of course, there’s the relentless fourth-wall-breaking dialog that reminds us all that’s it’s just a TV show. Dialog this season has really ramped up such references, with such lines as “It’s our last season, we have to do it!” and “This is gonna be a good one!” to the ending of the penultimate episode that previewed the finale in its dialog with “Now that would be a finale!”
Indeed, this week perhaps topped all the series’ self-references with an episode where John Larroquette took a TV network to court for age discrimination for not having enough programming that appeals to the over-50 crowd — the demographic toward which “Boston Legal” itself skews and is reportedly the exact reason for its cancellation by ABC. Says Larroquette, citing examples in court: “Shows like Bo… I can’t say it; it would break the wall.” Heh. As if you hadn’t already. Somehow, as contrived as these references can be, I admire the cheerful spirit.
And, of course, the show is grounded by a friendship that is enjoyable to watch — that of Alan Shore and Denny Crane. James Spader is very good as Alan Shore; through Kelley’s writing staff, Spader’s courtroom closing-argument scenes have showcased an unmatched verbal prowess and a relentless ability to persuade. Even as we know we’re being shamelessly manipulated by the plot and/or arguments, the ride is enjoyable.
Meanwhile, Kelley found the perfect way to employ William Shatner. It’s my opinion that Denny Crane — at least in the early seasons of the show (and especially the “Practice” episodes that became the basis for the spin-off) — showcased a perfect understanding for how Shatner’s persona could be used in service of an original character: a boundlessly confident, larger-than-life, arrogant, pompous blowhard who would tell you how it is, and yet at the same time remained human and lovable. (I wish I had a video link to the “Practice” episode where he went off on three other lawyers in a judge’s chambers: “You’re an ass. You’re an ass. You’re an ass. Dumb bastards!” If William Shatner’s legacy was James T. Kirk until age 65, then his legacy after age 70 is Denny Crane. (Yes, Denny’s endless dirty-old-man sexist lecherism has been overplayed and gradually become very tiresome, but on the whole Denny has been a memorable TV character.)
Certainly, I have my qualms with the show. It’s way too formulaic. The dialog can be too cute and aware of how funny it knows it is. The music hammers on the “Look how funny we are!” vibe with far too much insistence. The characters are, let’s face it, fairly one-dimensional. The show can be flat-out cartoonish at times, before pulling a 180 and becoming deadly serious. The political preaching can be predictable.
But as a comfort entertainment with sharp writing, you could do far worse. Having seen probably a little less than half of “Boston Legal’s” episodes, I don’t feel like I missed a great deal, but I enjoyed it when I was watching.