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DVD Review: Boston Legal – Season Five

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"My approval rating went up in that room. I'm a hero to those people. I couldn't be more popular if I got kids to smoke cigarettes."

The world's most lively attorneys return for their fifth and final go-around in Boston Legal: Season Five, a four-disc set from Fox Home Entertainment. Returning to the Emmy-award winning series for one final fling in the courtroom are stars James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, John Larroquette, Christian Clemenson, and Tara Summers.

It's last call for the gang at Crane, Poole & Schmidt, the reputedly "prestigious" law firm in the Massachusetts capital of Boston. The firm is going broke (an unfortunate victim of the economy) and could very well wind up being bought out by the Chinese. The ever-inimitable Alan Shore (James Spader) begins to wonder if he may objectify the opposite sex a bit while his partner-in-crime, the one and only Denny Crane (played by the one and only William Shatner), worries about what the future will hold (and more importantly, whether or not his penis will continue to perform correctly) due to his self-diagnosed Mad Cow disease. The boss-lady, Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen), is ready to announce her clandestine relationship with senior partner Carl Sack (John Larroquette) — but how will Denny take it when he's still madly in love with Shirley? Meanwhile, the talented and quirky Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson, who has always reminded me of Andrew Fletcher from Depeche Mode for some reason) finally gets his day in court (in several ways) as he makes progress against his otherwise debilitating Asperger syndrome with the help of his co-worker Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers).

For any other series, that may all seem like an awful lot of character and plot development for a season that is only 13 episodes long (or 12 if you will; the DVD preserves the back-to-back pairing of the final two episodes as they originally aired). However, since the writers of Boston Legal knew full well that this would be their final hoorah with the show, they decided to go for broke by not only "maturing" their characters, but by having them take on some of the most unimaginable and outrageous cases. Sadly, these cases would never make the cut if presented to the courts in real life, but one can dream, right?

First off, Alan tackles the bastards at big tobacco. Then, the pharmaceutical companies. Other "controversial" issues (everything from same-sex marriage to teen pregnancy and abortion) are covered and exploited by series creator/writer David E. Kelley and crew, but perhaps the funniest case would have to be in the episode "Juiced" where Carl Sack takes on Catherine Piper's (Betty White) case against the television networks for not having any decent programming on the air for people over the age of 50. Ah, wouldn't it be nice if we could sue the television networks for all of those crappy faux-celeb-reality and embarassing game shows? "Juiced," like virtually every other episode in season five, enjoys breaking the delicate fourth wall that surrounds the television characters (hell, they shatter it completely in some cases) and for those of you who thought Boston Legal jumped the shark in season four, there's a nice brief joke about that, too.

Other highlights in the last season include (to name a few) Denny shooting yet more people (which could make for a good drinking game if anyone's paying attention) and an epic paintball fight between Alan and Denny. In "Happy Trails," Denny and Alan opt to go on one last road trip (on-screen) and wind up going to a dude ranch in Utah. Unfortunately for Alan, annoying Texas lawyer Melvin Palmer (Christopher Rich) is there too. Palmer returns again, along with former attorney Edwin Poole (played by the great Larry Miller), in "Thanksgiving," an episode that features the most memorable Thanksgiving dinner ever shown on TV.

Fans of previous seasons will be delighted to see former Crane, Poole & Schmidt associates Denise Bauer (Julie Bowen) and Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) return (if only for a bit), while Laugh-In comedian Henry Gibson gets a chance to ham it up some more as Judge Clark Brown (a part the actor portrayed nearly two dozen times on the show). The episode "Mad Cows" brings a lot of laughs as guest star Valerie Bertinelli appears while the theme from One Day At A Time plays in the background — the same episode also features a very pro-Democratic theme and just happened to air the night before Barack Obama was elected as the President of the United States (my Republican employer, who is also named Denny, and also happens to be my friend, holds Boston Legal responsible for the turnout at the polls). The final two-parter, "Made In China/Last Call" features a wonderful (and funny) conclusion that, although it may mist up your eyes a little, is an ultimately satisfying closing to one of the best shows that television ever produced.

Each episode is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen ratio with Dolby Surround sound. The video quality is very good, with only a hint of any graining every now and then. The audio comes through loud and clear — and should you have difficulty deciphering the mumblings of James Spader or William Shatner, you can flip on the English subtitles or closed captioning. Additional subtitles in Spanish, French, and Portuguese are also available.

Okay, a few words about the packaging here: this set does not use the several-slim-packs-in-a-box that was used in the last four season releases but instead houses all four discs in a regular-style DVD Amaray case and a slipcover. Many collectors will no doubt fume over this, since it won't quite "fit in" with the other sets… but then again, since when was Boston Legal all about fitting it?

While the previous DVD sets of Boston Legal were a bit skimpy on special features, Boston Legal: Season Five gives us a few more goodies to wade through (which is a blessing, especially considering how few episodes this season is comprised of). On disc two, there's a fun featurette "Denny And Alan: Friends To The End" (14:36) which discusses the evolution of Denny and Alan's relationship over the years. I should warn you since Fox doesn't bother doing so: there are some spoilers from the finale in this featurette, so please do not watch it until after you have seen all of the episodes (unless you already know how it ends).

Moving on, "Denny's Daughter: The Untold Story" (21:42) is on disc three and is a look at a dropped subplot that is introduced by producer/director Bill D'Elia and features Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Denny's illegitimate offspring. Think of it as a lost half-episode and it'll seem that much better. Disc four's featurette, "Closing Statement: The Boston Legal Series Finale" (13:17), gives the show's cast and crew a chance to reflect on their good times on the set. Disc four also contains twenty-minutes worth of deleted scenes (also introduced by Bill D'Elia). Most of the discs also house previews for other feature-length films that play before the main menu pops up.

It may not take itself as seriously as it did in the last four seasons, but that should not deter you from picking up Boston Legal: Season Five since, unlike so many other shows out there, Boston Legal actually gets the opportunity to go out with a bang and takes it — with all the heart and humor it can muster.

Now let's hope our favorite characters from Boston Legal return in another spin-off (even if they are just cameo appearances).

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.