It strikes me that I never really discuss Boston Legal, and I have no idea why that is, so I thought I’d explore the issue.
Is Boston Legal purely disposable television? Is it a show I just watch because — let’s face it — I’m completely and totally obsessed with television and the idea of going without a show for a single hour of primetime breaks my heart?
No, that can’t be it. So then, to defend Boston Legal…
How about starting it off this way, it’s like Ally McBeal, but good. Obviously it’s similar because it’s another legal dramedy show produced and created by David E. Kelley. But, where the quirks and foibles of the main characters on McBeal were grating after the first five minutes, Legal has been able to avoid that trap. Additionally, McBeal’s entire raison d’être was to try and get McBeal back with her old boyfriend, played by Gil Bellows, who left in the second season of the series. At that moment, the show promptly lost its way. Though the show (unbelievably) would continue to air for a few more seasons, it was only trading on the good will it earned during the time Gil Bellows was present.
As with McBeal, Legal has a large cast of eccentrics and whackos, but McBeal fell into the trap of putting the characters’ eccentricities at the center of everything, whereas Legal has them to the side. The eccentricities exist in Legal, but they inform the characters’ actions rather than having them entirely take over the character.
Okay, so it’s better than McBeal, that doesn’t make it good. To add to it, the legal cases are interesting (if sometimes unbelievable). Last night, two related-to-the-headlines stories took center stage: unattractive, socially awkward girls being booted from a sorority; and the patenting of one person’s genetic information by another. Though the show always deals with these cases in a humorous fashion, there is unquestionably a heart underneath it all. Even if the lawyers lose their cases (as was seen last night), the show highlights the difference between legal reality and right versus wrong. It’s an important distinction, and one that Legal (more so recently) is willing to make.
Plus, there’s the cast: James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, Mark Valley, and the underrated Julie Bowen (among others). Not only are they all extremely talented, but it’s clear from every episode that they are legitimately having fun doing it, and that’s make a huge difference.
The central member of the cast, James Spader, is the glue that holds everything together. He plays Alan Shore, a semi-despicable man that is softening with age, despite his best efforts. Shore is a lawyer who will resort to the lowest, most outlandish, tactics he can think of to win a case, as long as he truly believes in the client. He regrets his actions on a regular basis, but is learning to live with who he is.
So, good cast, good characters, good stories. That’s why the show is so good. I do however have the sense that five or ten years from now the show is going to seem highly dated. It’s funny, it’s fast, and it has a heart, but it also seems to be cashing in on a particular look, sensibility, and feel that is going to cause it to not live on as well in repeats. Partially it’s that so many of the cases and references are influenced by present day news and politics. The characters echo sentiments from newspapers, popular culture, and public opinion to such a degree that in ten years, in a society with incredibly short-term memory, that the logic behind Boston Legal may be indecipherable for many people.
That however, should not stop you from watching it now. There are still a couple of episodes left this season, check one out, you won’t regret it.