Expectations for David E. Kelley's new series were extraordinarily high coming into the premiere of "Boston Legal" this week. After all, this is the man who gave us two of the most popular legal dramas ever ("The Practice" and "Ally McBeal") shepherding a killer team of actors into his first new show after two cancellations. Emmy wins for series stars James Spader and William Shatner only served to raise the bar just a little higher.
Suffice to say, both creator and actors delivered with the debut episode. The writing and acting was so solid its hard to believe this is just the first outing for these folks. Indeed, it really isn't exactly the beginning for the show, as four of main cast (Spader, Shatner, Rhona Mitra, and Lake Bell) actually closed out the final episodes of "The Practice" last season. But gone now is the weighty drama of criminal defense, and the weighty ethics of Bobby Donnell and Eugene Young are nowhere to be seen. The law firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt takes us into the world of civil litigation, which Kelley clearly views as fertile ground for the sort of hot-button topics his prior shows became famous for.
There are many good things to say about "Boston Legal," but what it comes down to is this: it is a show worth watching.
The bad news is that both Alan Shore (Spader) and Denny Crane (Shatner) have been toned down significantly from their earlier, more manic incarnations.
In "The Practice," Shore was a malicious, amoral bastard who seemed to be nothing more than solid id, saying and doing whatever happened to come to mind without regard for decorum or consequences. He didn't do bad things to win cases, he did bad things because that was who he was. No more. The worst thing Shore does in the first episode of "Legal" is to take incriminating photos to use as blackmail, hardly the stuff of pure evil. Shore is mostly passive here, which hampers his proclivity for mischief for mischief's sake. Not to mention the fact that he has scenes stolen from him twice within the course of an hour, once from an African-American Little Orphan Annie and once from a showy surprise guest star. On "The Practice," it was Spader who did the scene stealing.