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Boston Legal - Season 1
Kelley is well known in TV land. He started out writing for L.A. Law, helped create Doogie Howser, and was the frontrunner for Alley McBeal, The Practice, and Chicago Hope. Having been a lawyer he brings a certain authenticity to many of his works and his particular brand of humor could probably be best described as tongue in cheek. His latest series, Boston Legal is no different from the rest of his portfolio in terms of quality and quirkiness.
While Boston Legal may be the new(er) kid on the block, it actually has ties to The Practice and is basically a spin off. The lead characters: Denny Crane (William Shatner), Alan Shore (James Spader), Sally Heep (Lake Bell), and Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra) were all introduced at some point or another on that show.
After sitting through the entire first season of Boston Legal it's easy to see where some restructuring went on as the team realized what worked and what didn't. Coming off of the long running Practice this show needed to shake things up a bit. On one hand it tackles deep moral issues that plague the news headlines for better or worse. On the other it offers a sexually charged sense of irreverent humor that can be downright abusive at times. In between is where Boston Legal finds its dramatic balance and dark, quirky charm.
As with the case in most television dramas this particular one is all about the characters. Sure each episode offers a couple of trials and a story, but at the heart of it all is the development and interaction of the lawyers that reside here. At the beginning of this season there are a lot of bumps in the road, though they do get ironed out as the show progresses. The characters of Crane and Shore were the most established going in so the rest had to find their place and slowly do as the season progresses.
Denny Crane is played remarkably by William Shatner. He is arguably the most loveable character on the show. He's an aging attorney who was the best trial lawyer that ever lived; or at least that's what he'd tell you. In his elderly state he is out to prove the world that he is still as good as ever, both in the courtroom and bedroom respectively. He constantly objectifies women and can't help but walk by a pair of pretty legs and strike up a conversation. The twist is that he isn't just trying to relive his glory days by acting younger; he's denying the fact that he is getting older and suffering with the onset of Alzheimer's. Most of Crane's quips are one-liners, smart ass remarks about Democrats, and lewd comments about sexual acts. He also feels the need to say his name randomly as if to remind people of the weight that it carries and just who he is.
Alan Shore is an equally complex character, but ironically doesn't really have a lot in common with Crane apart from his love of women, drinking, and skills in front of the jury. His girlfriend, Tara, summarized his character the best when she said that there are three sides to him; the good, the bad, and the naughty. The good Alan goes into the courtroom to fight for justice and protect the rights of the wrongfully accused. The bad Alan gets his jollies buying his way into a barroom brawl, pushing people's buttons, and resorting to blackmail. The naughty side of his character features him sexually harassing anything with two legs and breasts as well as flirting his way into the heart's of every girl in the office. He's the kind of guy that you love to hate and hate to love.
Those two characters get the most playtime on the show, but the rest of the cast comes in to pick up the pieces. Quite a ways into the first season Shirley Schmidt's (Candace Bergen) character is introduced and she becomes a big name in the show just like Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois). The rest of the lawyers that occupy the airwaves are the Captain America-like Brad Chase (Mark Valley), the conflicted Lori Colson (Monica Potter), and the fired Sally Heep (Lake Bell). These three in particular (along with Tara) are experimented with throughout this season and it takes quite a few episodes before the writers seem to get their characters nailed down. On a side note it's worth mentioning that this season features a veritable bounty of surprise guest stars. If you're going to watch the show then I won't spoil the surprise, but let's just say it added to my appreciation of the material.
The bulk of the story telling in Boston Legal is broken down into three components revolving around these characters. First of all there is the relationship factor which is extremely high. Just about everybody is hooking up with each other, sleeping with each other, or fawning over their co-workers. I didn't realize that lawyers were this horny, but this show would allege that nearly every attorney in Boston deserves a sexual harassment suit. The second piece of the show focuses on the cases that are being tried, of which there are typically two in each episode. The third factor showcases on the in-fighting that takes place in the law offices of Crane, Poole, and Shmidt.
During this season everybody has a chip on their shoulder against everybody else. Shmidt and Lewiston want to fire Shore, but realize that he's too good of a lawyer to let go. Shore and Chase do a fair amount of male posturing and tend to get in a few pissing contests throughout the course of the season. The girls all seem to bicker over their objects of affection. Crane and Lewiston clash every once in a while. Heck, it seems at times that the whole office is about to erupt since they are often at each other's throats. Ironically though, at the end of the day most all of these differences are settled and everybody lets bygones be bygones.
When the lawyers aren't at each others throats (or loins) they actually spend most of their day in the courtroom, believe it or not. The bulk of the cases tried in this season are pretty interesting with some topics that cover headlines from back in the day. There is quite a bit of politics dragged into things with talk about the election, the war, and even the bias of the Fox News Channel. Not everything is completely serious in these seventeen episodes and there are quite a few that are funny or downright bizarre.
In the end Boston Legal is a great lawyer show with some interesting characters and its own sense of style. Shatner, Spader, and Bergen all turn out fantastic performances and really make this show something special. While the dark humor is something of a guilty pleasure, at times it can be a little too naughty for its own good. There are some episodes (near the beginning of the season especially) where dramatic points were missed thanks to cheeky humor. Kelley and company quickly find their stride though and Boston Legal becomes an addicting show that is hard to turn off. If you enjoyed the Practice, or any of Kelley's other works you'll definitely want to check this show out if you haven't already been watching it on TV.
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Boston Legal season one is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and one heck of a vibrant transfer. This is a colorful show that absolutely pops whether it's in the courtroom, the bar, or the offices of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. The video is sharp for the most part with some decent clarity. Sometimes the image can be a tad soft or feature just a hint of grain, but I can't really complain at the end of the day. It's as good as, if not better looking, than the show's broadcast.
I was hoping that Fox would have pieced together a 5.1 surround mix for Boston Legal but beggars can't be choosey. What we have here is a presentation that offers a 2.0 Stereo track and that's just about it. The quality is fine throughout with decent volume control and no noticeable technical goofs. There is some minor directionality on the soundstage but it's nothing to get too excited about. Subtitles are available for English, Spanish, and French.
Three special features are prominently displayed on the fifth disc in the set. The first is a feature all about the show's creation and includes commentary from the cast and Kelley. The bulk of the eleven and a half minutes is eaten up by clips though there are a few behind the scenes shots that fans may appreciate. A fun little extra is a look at the characters of Denny Crane and Alan Shore. In it Shatner, Spade, and Kelley talk about the two and how their relationship is. Sadly it doesn't introduce you to any other insight that you wouldn't get by watching the entire season anyway. Rounding things off in the supplemental category of this set is a collection of deleted scenes from the pilot episode with a brief introduction about them.
The dark comedy and hard-nosed drama in Boston Legal makes it one of the most uniquely entertaining shows on television today. Going back to watch the first season in its entirety reiterated for me just how great this show is. Each episode has something different to offer and the season only gets better the further in it gets. At the beginning things feel a little awkward with a lack of chemistry and dramatic balance, but those flaws get ironed out quickly enough. It's great to see some of Kelley's work available on DVD, though I do have to say it's strange to see the spin off before the original (The Practice). At any rate, this is a solid and hilarious show with a remarkable cast and even better writing. Highly Recommended. "Denny Crane!"