Boston Legal: Season Four Review

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Who knew Spader and Shatner would make perfect partners?


Writer-producer David E. Kelley has had a long love-affair with Boston lawyers — perhaps because he used to be one. While there he wrote a screenplay and was hired to write for, and eventually run, L.A. Law. Then, in a post-Twin Peaks climate that encouraged weirdness, Kelley returned to Boston and law with the fantasist Ally McBeal and the contrastingly realistic The Practice, with its beleaguered legal eagles. That introduced Alan Shore (James Spader), who went on to greater glory in this zany, legal comedy-drama spin-off.

Liberal, sardonic womaniser Shore joined prestige firm Crane, Poole And Schmidt, and was embraced by the wildly eccentric and celebrated Denny Crane (genius William Shatner). Denny, undefeated in court, is a bon vivant, a gun-toting conservative in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. To Denny’s partner and ex-flame Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) falls the task of reining in partners and staff who have included a cross-dresser, an autistic savant, a serial killer secretary and a string of inexplicably British lawyers. In season four these include Saffron Burrows’ Lorraine, whose secret life running a call-girl ring creates the odd spot of bother...

Now in its fifth and final season in the U. S., the show has had dips, but it’s received a pile of Emmys (especially for Spader and Shatner), and been prized for drawing the highest audience of young adults in TV history. Cast regulars have come and gone, along with flashy guest stars (Michael J. Fox, Tom Selleck, Rupert Everett, er, Freddie Prinze Jr.). But the main attraction is the side-splittingly sublime partnership of Shore and Crane, TV’s greatest heterosexual life partners, who end every episode companionably smoking cigars, slugging whisky and reflecting on life.

During the uneven season four there are, of course, weird and wonderful trials, but a new development when Denny is asked to run for President. On the more dramatic side, Mr. Shore fights for a man’s life before the Supreme Court, Shirley is kidnapped by a murder suspect, and the boys prove their patriotism by enlisting in the Coast Guard, despite Alan’s fear of water.

Less about lawyers in love than Ally McBeal and less earnest than The Practice, Boston Legal is kooky while tackling hot-button issues. The balance is embodied, brilliantly, in the two protagonists. Whenever Alan’s impassioned summations to juries get too preachy, Denny can be relied on to go off the reservation, produce a weapon or commit a breathtakingly embarrassing faux pas. It’s a winning balancing act.