"Boston Legal" Is A Mess

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The New York Times
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February 14, 2006
The TV Watch
Beneath the Quirks, There's Always a Message for the Masses

"Boston Legal" is a mess, which may be its chief appeal.

David E. Kelley's last standing series on ABC on Tuesday nights is a
comedy steeped in sanctimony; it's a drama with a swath of slapstick
satire and self-mockery. It's an hourlong sitcom, except when it turns
into liberal talk radio: in almost every episode, the hero, Alan Shore
(James Spader), shakes off his sardonic detachment and delivers a long,
uninterrupted rant about the Iraq war, the credit card industry or the
Roman Catholic Church.

Then he has brandy and a cigar with the semisenile senior partner,
Denny Crane (William Shatner), and the two lawyers tune in to a male
bond that has become the show's sweet center and biggest joke. Shore
recently broke through the fourth wall when he walked into his pal's
office. "There you are," he said affably. "I've hardly seen you this

Most network television shows, good or bad, are above all consistent.
"Boston Legal" is deviant.

It keeps changing, for one thing. Some fixes - made to appeal to
older, female viewers - have proven worthwhile: Candice Bergen, as
Shirley Schmidt, a sharp-tongued senior partner, and Betty White as
Catherine, a felonious secretary, have added some class and cut down
the show's testosterone.

Others, however, are less inviting, more a sign of lax writing than

Mr. Spader began the role as a last-ditch addition to "The Practice" in
2003; ABC had cut the budget on that faltering drama, and Mr. Kelley
responded by firing half the cast and hiring Mr. Spader, a film actor
best known for playing icily intelligent villains. At first, Shore was
wonderfully twisted and villainous, a greedy, corrupt and sneaky
corporate lawyer who coaxed his old friend Ellenor (Camryn Manheim) to
hire him after he was fired by his own firm for embezzlement. Early in
the first season of "Boston Legal," Alan Shore had a soft spot for lost
causes, but he kept any semblance of human decency well hidden from his
colleagues and clients.

Shore remains icy and cutting, but he has shed much of his wickedness
to champion causes. In a recent episode he represented a young woman
suing the United States military for the death of her brother in Iraq,
lashing out at the administration and a complacent, indifferent public.
( "At least with Vietnam we all watched and got angry.") He lost the
case but won over the judge, who agreed with Shore's assessment that
the war was a "disaster."

Shore has morphed from someone who was despicable even in his finer
moments to a conventional prime-time hero. (The camera keeps cutting to
characters staring in awe at his eloquence and moral fervor.)

And that makes the show too much like "The Practice" and "L.A. Law,"
where Mr. Kelley made his television writing debut. Each episode
entwines serious issues with absurd ones, and guest stars add a little
of both: Michael J. Fox played a C.E.O. with terminal cancer; Tom
Selleck arrives next Tuesday as Shirley's philandering ex-husband.

Much of Shore's bad-boy behavior was leeched off by Mr. Shatner, who
revels in his post-"Star Trek" second act. (In one episode, after Shore
explains to Denny that sea lice are sometimes known as "cling-ons," he
does a double-take and says, "Klingons?")

Denny Crane is a lecherous, monomaniacal showboater who has lost much
of his mind, apparently to mad cow disease. He is Shore's soul mate and
conservative sparring partner, channeling Vice President Dick Cheney to
defend, not very persuasively, the war in Iraq or polluters.
Environmentalists, he declares on a salmon fishing trip, are

"Yesterday it's a tree, today it's a salmon, tomorrow it's 'Let's not
dig Alaska for oil 'cause it's too pretty.' Let me tell you something,"
he says. "I came out here to enjoy nature. Don't talk to me about the

The conservative movement is ascendant, but one of the few places where
liberal ideology still has a strong voice is on television dramas and
sitcoms. Mr. Kelley seems to feel that he alone carries the torch. Last
March, Mr. Kelley complied when ABC asked him to remove all direct
references to the Fox News Channel and its on-air personalities in an
episode about a high school principal who blocks Fox News from school
televisions, saying its agenda was close to "hate speech." The script
was changed to refer only to an unnamed conservative cable news
channel. Mr. Kelley, however, added a taunt at his network.

"I don't know which newscast you've been watching recently, but the
First Amendment is losing its luster lately," Shore says to a colleague
in that episode. "Some networks are even censoring their scripted

But "Boston Legal" could do with less heat and more wit. In Shore, Mr.
Kelley has created a character who rivals Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen
of "Deadwood." It seems a shame to sacrifice him on the altar of
politics. Dishing conservatives, after all, is a revenge best served

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That's about right.

Odd to see this description published in NYT.

BL has got to find itself a story arc, pronto.

Are you kidding?! Of course the NYT loves Bochco's liberal Hollywood 
polemic! It's right up their alley!!
And this negative review supports their "liberal agenda" how?
Of course, Liberal now means: anything that rocks the boat in the least.

And this negative review supports their "liberal agenda" how?

Good question. Maybe Ian is slipping......
I liked elements of THE PRACTICE. Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco
(perhaps with Holland Taylor) deserved a spin-off. I can't stand this
show, Spader, or his character.