|Boston Legal: Season One (2004)
Starring: James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, Monica Potter, Mark Valley, Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell
“Boston Legal” isn’t exactly David E. Kelley’s most original show, but you can bet that it’s sitting pretty at the top of his impressive résumé following its unprecedented success at last year’s award ceremonies. And though the critically acclaimed series features four characters from “The Practice,” as well as the same off-the-wall comedic energy that made “Ally McBeal” such a smash hit (both of which Kelley created), “Boston Legal” manages to subsist as its own entity. It also doesn’t hurt to have accomplished actors like James Spader, William Shatner and Candice Bergen at your side, for which the show would have been a complete disaster without. Still, Kelley’s a genius when it comes to offering a new spin on the law drama. It’s his bread and butter, and audiences have been eating it up for the past decade.
Picking up the pieces following the “Practice” season finale, “Boston Legal” opens with the incredibly uncouth Alan Shore (Spader) following friend and mentor (and super-lawyer) Denny Crane (Shatner) to the Boston law firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, where they deal almost exclusively in civil law. Accompanying the eccentric duo are a few new faces, including Monica Potter as an uppity, by-the-books lawyer who straddles between practicing civil and criminal law, Mark Valley as Shore’s in-house nemesis Brad Chase, and Rene Auberjonois (from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as one of the firm’s partners, Paul Lewiston. “Practice” alum Rhona Mitra (as the sexy, British-accented Tara Wilson) and Lake Bell (as Sally Heep) also return, while Candice Bergen joins the show midway through the first season as founding partner Shirley Schmidt.
Similar to “Ally McBeal” in many ways, “Boston Legal” not only highlights the oddball lawyers that work within the firm, but those that come to it looking for help. And while the unorthodox cases are almost always handled by either Alan or Denny, the ones that aren’t still tend to receive some sort of help (whether legal or illegal, or for that matter, moral or immoral) from one of the two men. Some of the strangest cases that appear throughout the first season include a black girl denied the role of Annie (“Head Cases”), a transvestite mall Santa that is fired due to his “recreational” activities (“Loose Lips”), and a legendary lawyer who wants to be cryogenically frozen (“Let Sales Ring”). The rest of the season isn’t teeming with material as rich as the abovementioned, but it does feature some great guest spots by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Larry Miller as founding partner Edwin Poole, and Freddie Prinze Jr. as Denny’s son, and aspiring lawyer, Donny Crane.
The rest is up to James Spader and William Shatner, who knock it out of the park in every scene they’re in. And while Spader’s darkly comic performance as the womanizing smart-ass is one for the ages, it’s Shatner’s bombastic portrayal of a once great man clinging to his legendary reputation that steals the show. Without the presence of either of these men, “Boston Legal” would have been a washout. Instead, the series has quickly become one of the most popular shows on television, and now fans can celebrate with the release of the first season on DVD. A must-buy for anyone who’s recently lost faith in the prospect of good television, the five-disc box set features all seventeen originally broadcasted episodes in a 1.78:1 widescreen video format and Dolby Surround audio track, as well as a handful of special features detailing the making-of the show.
Unfortunately, the bonus material doesn’t offer much more than an eleven-minute featurette on the origin of the series (“Court is Now in Session”), and another on the chemistry between Spader and Shatner (“An Unlikely Pair). And while deleted scenes from the pilot episode also appear, the lack of any audio commentaries is a major disappointment. We can only guess that Fox’s decision to rush season one to DVD caused a lack of special features to be produced. This is fairly typical with the first season of breakout shows and the second season release will most likely have more material available.
Despite a less-than-average DVD release, however, “Boston Legal” remains to deliver some of the best writing on television. The scripts are jam-packed with witty social commentary and page-long monologues that any actor would kill to sink their teeth into, and the cast is clearly having a good time making the show. Then again, “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” were both considered groundbreaking shows when they first premiered as well, later suffering a serious collapse after only a few seasons on the air. One can only hope that the same won’t happen to “Boston Legal,” and as long as Spader and Shatner are steering the ship, it’s hard to expect it will happen anytime soon.