Fox // 2004 // 728 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 23rd, 2006
Denny Crane: I have an erection. That's a good sign. I'm ready to go to trial. Lock and load.
Boston Legal: Season One is a highly anticipated DVD release; the hype has been incredible. The show marks the return of William Shatner (Star Trek), James Spader (Stargate), and Candice Bergen ( Murphy Brown) to television in a courtroom dramatic comedy by David E. Kelley. What's not to love?
Boston Legal follows the misadventures of the civil trial lawyers from the firm Crane, Poole, and Schmidt in Boston. They're sexy and attractive, and they take on ludicrous cases which seem to comment on our society. The firm is headed by senior partner Denny Crane (Shatner), who is an obnoxiously cocky old warhorse who believes he is God's gift to the legal profession. Second in command, by sheer ego, is Alan Shore (Spade), a charmingly smarmy trial attorney who is a rising star of the firm and unlikely ally of Crane's. At war with the two unconventional men is a fast talking ex-marine named Brad Chase (Mark Valley, Harry Green and Eugene). On Brad's side is the lawyer's lawyer, Paul Lewiston (Renee Auberjonois, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Three beautiful women fill out the ranks: Tara (Rhona Mitra, Sweet Home Alabama), Sally (Lake Bell, Miss Match), and Lori (Monica Potter, Saw). The office is a sea of chaos, political incorrectness, and flat out buffoonery, but they get the job done. Enter senior partner Shirley Schmidt (Bergen) who has been sent to shape up the office despite her checkered past with Denny Crane. Why is she really there? Only Shirley knows.
Nobody does lawyer comedy dramas quite like David E. Kelley. He's got a nearly impeccable record with shows like Ally McBeal, The Practice, and the under appreciated Girls Club. The man finds success when he puts his stories and characters in to a court rather than when he journeys outside. The promising Boston Public and Snoops started off well, but degenerated quickly. It seems Kelly couldn't mine Boston teachers for enough immorality, so he had to return to the deliciously evil and amoral world of legal eagles. It makes sense when you consider Kelley was a successful Boston lawyer before he moved out to Hollywood. He's got a wealth of real life experience to draw from; his first gigs included the legal comedy From the Hip, which led to a story editor position on L.A. Law. David Kelley understands lawyers, and is more at home with the morally questionable, yet passionate, lives of trial attorneys than almost any other genre he attempts.
Boston Legal reminds me a great deal of Kelley's most popular show to date, Ally McBeal. I always had a soft spot in my heart for that show, and mourn the fact we've yet to see a region one complete season release (as of the date of this writing). Still, Boston Legal showcases what makes a David E. Kelley show great: brilliantly cast characters, lots of off the wall humor, impossible romantic matches, and the goofiest trials you've ever heard of which can go anywhere. The show has a much less romantic setup than his previous series, and because it is helmed by two seemingly misogynistic leads it is unflinchingly male in tone. Where Ally McBeal was about bitchy women, this one is about prickish men -- the Mars to the Venus.
When Boston Legal debuted in October of 2004, it had smash hit written all over it. Spader and Shatner had both won Emmys for their portrayals of the two characters when they played them on The Practice. Both actors came in to the series with a firm grasp of their personas, and Kelley merely assembled a complimentary ensemble to round out the firm. Getting Candice Bergen in the show was a real coup, and by the time she enters the scene in the eleventh episode the show is firing all four cylinders like a well oiled machine. The charm of Boston Legal comes in how it blends soap opera elements around the relationships in the firm and the individual trials. You can watch the show as a continuing story, or just select certain episodes for their thematic elements. The social issues confronted by the trials vary from funny to sad -- often in the same case. It's the closest thing to a black comedy with a political bent on television today. Boston Legal feels like a breath of fresh air when you compare it to the overabundance of reality shows, crime procedure dramas, and night time soaps. It's a joy to watch this cast work off each other. Spader, Shatner, and Bergman all seem to be having the time of their lives. Then there are the guest stars who pop up at insane moments, often playing themselves.
The seventeen episodes presented here represent the start of the journey for
the show, but it has a well-developed pace from the pilot. Unlike many shows,
Boston Legal has the formula and pace down pat from day one. Included in
this collection are:
* "Head Cases"
* "Still Crazy After All These Years"
* "Catch and Release"
* "Change of Course"
* "An Eye For an Eye"
* "Truth be Told"
* "Questionable Characters"
* "Loose Lips"
* "A Greater Good"
* "Hired Guns"
* "Schmidt Happens"
* "From Whence We Came"
* "It Girls and Beyond"
* "'Til We Meet Again"
* "Tortured Souls"
* "Let Sales Ring"
* "Death Be Not Proud"
Boston Legal Season One presents these episodes in a widescreen format with a remarkably clear transfer. Perhaps an HD TV broadcast could trump the image, but it's one of the clearest television presentations I've seen. The sound mix is stereo, but it's dynamic and lively. They've done an excellent job mastering the show for a digital format.
Why is it sometimes I feel like I've been down this road before? Kelley has been mining the same material for his entire career, and there are times when Boston Legal seems like the same show he's done several times with different faces. He claims Boston Legal is darker than his other shows, but it feels like Ally McBeal and The Practice in many ways. As spiffy as the show is, it has almost two decades of Kelley television to contend with.
The show's greatest strength is also its most polarizing aspect. The social issues are often presented from both angles, but the liberal agenda may have more conservative viewers tuning out. Denny Crane and Alan Shores are used as the right wing characters, but they usually end up coming down on the left when the episode closes. Some people have found it offensive, but Boston Legal is unapologetically progressive in most respects. It also flirts with a sexually charged environment, one that would make anyone who's worked in a real law firm squirm with visions of harassment dancing in their head.
The bad news about the set is the extras. We get an eleven-minute look at the creation of the show with no mention of its roots on The Practice. Next up is a five-minute, clip-heavy look at the relationship between Shatner and Spader's characters. Lastly we get some deleted scenes from the pilot that show a slightly different take on the series: alternate takes, more subplots involving Tara and senior partner Poole, and Shore and a judge. Surprisingly, the deleted scenes run for fifteen minutes, and provide the most interesting viewing out of all the extras. That's it. No commentaries, no on the set flubs, no scenes from episodes of The Practice, and nothing truly substantial other than the episodes and three featurettes. And yet if you head to Best Buy the first week of release, the set comes with an extra exclusive disc for the retailer with four episodes of The Practice featuring Denny and Alan. And one of them even has commentary! Oh the cruel fate of being forced to shop in one store to get the good stuff.
Trials and life are all about pulling rabbits out of a hat, and most people don't seem to mind how many times you do it -- as long as the bunny is cute. Boston Legal is a gorgeous, fluffy, white, big-eared thing that plays to our sense of humor and social outrage as all David E. Kelley trial comedy dramas have done. It has three excellent lead actors in Shatner, Bergen, and Spader. It features the funniest trials you've ever seen, and surprisingly, a few emotional ones. There's a lot to love here, and the only daunting issue is the lack of evidence to support the case. Where are the extras? Still with seventeen great episodes, you might not mind.
The ultimate guilty pleasure of lawyer comedies, Boston Legal is an entertaining look at the craziest court room warriors ever assembled. I have only three words in closing, and they are all you need to know about law and life...Denny Crane! Rabbits!
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 728 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes from the Pilot
* Featurette "Court is Now in Session: How Boston Legal Came to Be"
* Featurette "An Unlikely Pair: Alan Shore and Denny Crane"
* Official Site
* Episode Guide