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If one were looking to relate television to the web, there's no better comparison to be found than between Boston Legal (BL) and DVD Verdict. They are true companions. The show is incredibly witty, doesn't take itself at all seriously, wraps itself in legalese without much law, and is overflowing with Shatner. Our website is also deliciously witty, never takes itself seriously (except in the Jury Room), purports a legal theme with nary a hint of real law, is often said it's full of shat, and is overflowing with reviews starring and referring to the incomparable William Shatner (Denny Crane).
I love Boston Legal. When Alan Shore (James Spader) came in to that last season of The Practice and William Shatner appeared as Denny Crane, my heart skipped a beat thinking of the spin-off possibilities. The geek gods smiled down upon us and gave us this wonderful, Emmy award-winning series. It's perfectly ridiculous and I love it!
Facts of the Case
Presented over the course of this seven-disc set are the twenty-seven (yes, twenty-seven) episodes of the second season of Boston Legal:
• "The Black Widow"
The first question that must be going through your mind now is why are there twenty-seven episodes in Season Two? We're lucky that most shows still do twenty-two, so why five extra from Boston Legal? I'm glad you asked, and that's an easy question to answer. If you recall, BL originally was shown on Sunday nights. Doing what is now all the rage, BL was pre-empted for a few weeks to premiere a mid-season replacement show. That lousy show ended up with more viewers and ABC shamefully kept it on, eventually bumping BL to Tuesday nights. That rotten show trounced ours with more viewers, but we ended up winning Emmys for Shatner and Spader. Hence, the remaining Season One episodes were tacked on to the beginning of Season Two, which is why some characters don't get "Schmidt-canned" until several episodes in.
While I originally tuned in because of James Spader and William Shatner, the show has found a bounty of ways to keep me coming back for more. I'll admit that the majority of the reason I keep tuning in is becoming of this outstanding duo, but they are the thick icing on the cake of an amazingly irreverent show. What keeps me coming back is the zany humor of the show delightfully delivered from an overall stellar cast.
Without doubt, I find no show funnier on television than Boston Legal. Every single episode I am laughing out loud because of the off-the-wall humor, amazing zingers, wacky non-sequiturs, and overall sense of debauchery. This may not sound like large praise, but considering that I laugh at very little on television, to find myself laughing at every episode shows that it hits all the right buttons. And because of this banter, the show is imminently quotable. The things the writers have these characters spout is outrageous and often biting.
Comedy is tough and not everyone can do it, yet this cast is replete with talent. Look at the lineup on this show: William Shatner (Star Trek), James Spader (Stargate), Candace Bergen (Murphy Brown), Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space 9), Julie Bowen (Lost), and Monica Potter (Saw). Then we have an excellent set of supporting characters ranging from Adam Arkin (Chicago Hope), to Michael J. Fox (Spin City), to Heather Locklear (Spin City), to Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.), to Betty White (Golden Girls). Each of them brilliantly embraced their character and made a series that could be disastrously goofy into something that is brilliantly satirical.
But again, I have to go back to Shatner and Spader. Without these two, the show would absolutely not be what it is today. Shatner has come into his own in this role, owning it, embellishing it, and riding it for everything it's worth. Gone is his oft-joked delivery from Trek and instead comes a brave and solid performance from a true actor. He relishes the moment and chews the scenery with verve. For Spader, he's nowhere as aggressive as Shatner but every scene he is in is inspired. Whether it's his stunning closing arguments, his smarmy attitude, slick charm, aggressive sexuality, insecure confidence, or just a simple look, Spader rules the roost and you want him to be in every scene. He is Boston Legal.
Yet Boston Legal does not work for everyone. While I'm sitting on my couch laughing hysterically, others are flipping the channel as fast as they can. Why? Because they are disgusted by creator David E. Kelley's blatant and unabashed liberal bias in the show. In almost every episode, President Bush and his administration are ravaged and dissected. The conservative agenda is torn apart and ridiculed. All the while, this is balanced between the "pinko liberal" Alan Shore and righteous conservative Denny Crane. Shore finds faults in policy after policy while Crane defends America and ridicules those who don't agree as unpatriotic. Many times this is done in BL's usual tongue-in-cheek fashion, but there are occasion when a modicum of drama comes into the series and the issues receive the sincerity they deserve. This is best shown in "Squid Pro Quo," where the "global gag rule" is put on trial. While Denny defends America and the rule, Shore does not agree with the stipulations of said rule. However, in the end, Shore gives a thought-provoking closing argument defending the rule he personally abhors. Of course, as a raving liberal, I found these examinations of Republican policy wonderfully informative and an excellent challenge to the status quo of the administration. Those on the right prefer to flip the channel.
Lastly, I have to mention the show's casual flaunting of the "fourth wall." The characters—especially Shore and Crane (natch)—have lines that openly shatter the illusion of the television show. "I've barely seen you this episode," "I can't wait until next week," and "Did you say Klingons?" are a few examples of this. It can be jarring, but when mixed with the preposterousness of the rest of the show, it works. In fact, I look forward them and the occasional Trek reference uttered by Shatner.
I wish I could continue to muster the same level of joy and enthusiasm as I transit over to the DVDs themselves, but there's nothing here to jump for joy. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers look exactly the same as I recall seeing them on HDTV last year. That's not a bad thing, for the colors are rich, bright, and bold, blacks are deep, and contrast and detail are excellent. I am simply used to seeing an incremental enhancement from TV to DVD, but there's none here, hence my "disappointment." Worse, however, is the audio track, which is a mere Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. While every word of dialogue is clear and sound effects and music are well rendered, I am upset at the absence of a 5.1 mix. I'm fairly certain it was broadcast on HDTV with such a mix, so why isn't it included here?
Also adding to the blasé feel is the meager smattering of bonus items, a whopping two featurettes! First up is "Legal Pad: The Words of Boston Legal" (5 minutes). It's a flat and quick discussion about the talented group of writers on the show. They certainly deserved more time and recognition for the continual high level of quality material. Next and last is "Exhibit A: The Look of Boston Legal" (9 minutes, 43 seconds). This is a much better, far more informative behind-the-scenes look at the sets, lighting, and wardrobe of the show. I enjoyed this one, but I was left wanting more. But there is nothing else: no trailers, no previews, and no commentaries of any kind. I'm sorry, but this series demands the inclusion of a Shatner/Spader commentary or two.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Can you tell I love the show? I adore it so much that there are things that I wish could be changed to make it ever better:
• Mad Cow: When we first met Denny Crane, he was highly feared and respected. He was the ultimate lawyer, brilliant beyond cause. Now we know the "real" Denny, a sheepish, bumbling, crass, sex fiend. What I don't like is the onset of his mad cow disease. I don't want Denny to be dull; I want him to be in peak form, striking fear into the heart of all lawyers with his unabashed skill in the courtroom. Some small measure of mad cow diminishment has come to be, but not enough for me. Let's do a Grissom and make the mad cow go away.
• Rene Aberjonois: Rene's character Paul Lewiston is underutilized in the show. He's the crusty old lawyer, traditional to a fault. But he's just there more as an occasional hindrance than a centerpiece to the firm. Granted, he was given a daughter and a granddaughter this season, but that only teased us with a bit more screen time. Let's give Paul more plots and make him a greater voice and foil against Denny Crane.
• New Kids: Every season people come and go, and Season Two saw the addition of two junior members to the firm, Justin Mentell and Ryan Michelle Bathe . Neither character brought anything to the series, and their inclusion for the sake of diversity was obvious and sad—not that diversity is a bad thing. (Fortunately, they disappear by Season Three.)
• Herky-Jerky Style: I'm finally acclimated to the herky-jerky style of the show. I still don't necessary like all the quick cuts and hand zooms, but I'm used to it. It was a definite shock coming from The Practice, and I still believe that a calmer style would be more appealing to its audience.
I've gushed all over the place for Boston Legal, one of my favorite shows. It's a sublime combination of wit and talent that makes me look forward to Tuesday nights. I'm not going to regurgitate my praise, so I am cutting to the quick and recommending this set for either purchase or rental. Fans of the show will be dismayed by the lack of bonus material and "wanting" transfers, but the high quality of the episodes speaks for itself. For those who have yet to see the show, renting it is the perfect way to introduce yourself to some of the most brilliantly crafted characters on television today. They may be a bit off-center and a tad unrealistic, but their sheer bluntness and refreshing candor will win you over and give you hours of wholehearted amusement.
Boston Legal: Season Two is hereby found not guilty of murder, discrimination, sexual harassment, or anything else. All parties are free to go smoke a cigar and enjoy a fine drink.
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Scales of Justice
• "Exhibit A: The Look of Boston Legal"
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