|Boston Legal: Season Two (2005)
Starring: James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, Mark Valley, Julie Bowen, Justin Mentell, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Monica Potter
During my review of the first season of “Boston Legal,” I discussed how the employment of such established actors like James Spader and William Shatner contributed greatly to the show’s originality and success. One year later, and it couldn’t be any truer. The second season of David E. Kelley’s award-winning law drama looks to capitalize on the amazing chemistry between its two stars by making their relationship the highlight of every episode. I’m sorry to say that this was a big mistake – in fact, it’s probably the worst mistake that could have been made in the series’ transition from midseason replacement to primetime sensation. And while the first year utilized Spader and Shatner’s scenes together as the icing on top of an already delicious cake, the sophomore season overexposes the pair’s rapport, thus making it that much less special.
Evidently ignoring the season one finale – which had unorthodox lawyer Alan Shore (Spader) anxiously awaiting word on the death sentence of a young man suffering from slight mental retardation – the second year opens with Shore already back in Boston, without fellow legal counsel, Chelina Hall (Kerry Washington). In fact, Chelina’s sudden disappearance from the show isn’t even mentioned until the end of the season, when Washington returns for a cameo. The unexpected shuffling of characters is hardly a new concept in the world of “Boston Legal,” however, and while only one of the show’s main characters (Lake Bell) was canned during the first season, four are given the axe well before the end of the second year, including series alum Monica Potter and Rhona Mitra, and new recruits Justin Mentell and Ryan Michelle Bathe. Only one of the new faces actually manages to stick around for the entire season – Julie Bowen as Denise Bauer (no relation to Jack), an aggressive young attorney who is quick to make friends with firm partners Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) and Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) – but even she isn’t much of an improvement over the extremely dull Potter.
Bowen does lend balance to the rest of the cast, however, and offers a character that is very different from that of the show’s other stars. Speaking of which, while Spader and Shatner are given a bulk of the quality material, the writers have made sure to do a better job of spreading the wealth across the entire cast. For instance, Mark Valley is no longer forced to play the uptight asshole (and is given many great subplots throughout the season, including one particular episode (“Gone”) that has him impersonating an FBI agent in order to save a young boy) and Lewiston is presented with an interesting thread revolving around his drug-addicted daughter and the grandchild he never knew. Bergen plays the straight man as usual, and is typically wasted in most instances.
It hardly matters, though, since it’s the apolitical relationship between Shore and Crane that gets the most attention throughout the season. Previously attracted to the oddest of cases, Alan takes an interesting detour in his career by beginning to look out for the greater good. He goes out of his way to protect endangered trout and support anti-war protests, while Denny becomes obsessed with the impending reform for gun control. It should be noted that Denny tends to shoot things when he’s given the chance. During an impromptu fishing trip with Alan, Denny shoots a fish when he fails to catch anything; after being forced to represent a child rapist/murder, he shoots his client in both of his kneecaps so that he can be taken off the case; and when approached by a homeless man to make a “donation,” Denny shoots him in the head with a paintball gun. Funny stuff, indeed, but not even the greatest lawyer in the country would be allowed to get away with such reckless disregard of the law; victim of Mad Cow disease or not.
The comedic moments in the first season were never quite this over the top, and this year’s antics seemed to exist simply for the sake of being over the top. Instead, the writers should have focused more on the subtler humor of the series, like how characters often break down the fourth wall by speaking openly about being on a television show. Sure, Shatner makes numerous “Star Trek” references, as well as an offhanded remark about a kidney stone (which he had just passed and sold for charity months earlier) during the second season, but when the two men have no scenes together in an entire episode, only to meet up at the end and have Alan say, “Ah, there you are. I’ve hardly seen you this episode,” it becomes quite clear just how brilliant the writing on the show really is.
The show has slipped a bit since its premiere in 2004, but it continues to line up an impressive roster of guest stars. In the second season alone, both Michael J. Fox and Tom Selleck make numerous appearances (as a rich businessman dying of cancer and Schmidt’s ex-husband, respectively), as do other big names like Heather Locklear, Rupert Everett and Parker Posey (in what looks to become a recurring character), but it’s in the lesser known cameos that deliver the strongest performances; namely Christian Clemenson (“The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,” “United 93”) as Jerry “Hands” Epenson, a talented veteran lawyer suffering from a unique form of autism. His introductory three-episode arc is the best in the show’s history, and eventually led to the actor winning an Emmy.
Regrettably, while there’s obviously some great material to be found in the second season, the seven-disc DVD release has been poorly assembled. I was willing to forgive the lack of special features on the first season box set (since studios are usually releasing midseason replacements onto disc just in time for the premiere of the new season), but the poor selection of bonus material this time around is unacceptable. Aside from the inclusion of all twenty-seven episodes presented in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital, only two extras are offered – the five-minute writing featurette “Legal Pad: The Words of Boston Legal” and the nine-minute production/costume design featurette “Exhibit A: The Look of Boston Legal.” That’s only fourteen minutes of extras for nearly 20 hours of television.
Still, when it comes to finding smart entertainment, “Boston Legal” remains one of the premier choices. It features one of the best ensemble casts to date and delivers a healthy balance of social commentary for the proud Democrat or Republican in your family. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the series isn’t in danger of being cancelled anytime soon (here’s looking at you “Studio 60”), and while it may not be as flashy as other serialized dramas when it arrives on DVD, the market is far too subjective these days to warrant nitpicking. “Boston Legal” is, and remains to be, great television, and until either James Spader or William Shatner leave the show, it’ll most likely remain that way.