Taraji P. Henson
- Buy the DVD
All photos © ABC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
arly in Season Four of “Boston Legal,” Alan Shore (James Spader) has a heart to heart with Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) about whether or not he would make a good father, as his current relationship demands that he ponder such issues. He reveals, “I come from a long line of dreadful fathers. My great-grandfather, my grandfather…my father. With each generation they get worse. And me, well…I think a child might get a little lost with me leading the way.” It’s a quiet, insightful moment, but also one that demonstrates the uniqueness of the show. At this stage of the TV game, many a series would bestow a child on its main character and force him to grow up; it happens all too often. Saddling Alan Shore with a child would be one of the lamest things this show could ever do. It’s just not what “Boston Legal” is about. Besides, Alan’s already got a child to take care of: William Shatner’s Denny Crane.
After viewing this set, I went back and watched a bunch of episodes from the show’s first season. Man oh man has “Boston Legal” gone through some changes over the years. What started out as an edgy courtroom drama with moments of humor has morphed into a bawdy courtroom comedy with moments of poignancy. Early “Boston Legal” may be better drama, but its current incarnation is so much more fun to watch. A big part of its strength comes from its unpredictability, although maybe in its fourth season it’s starting to show a few cracks. There’s a feeling that we’ve been down some of these roads before. Maybe Kelley feels this, too, since the upcoming fifth season is set to be the last (and it’s only going to have 13 episodes). But let’s not bury the show before it’s dead, because the offices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt still have a lot of life in them.
Season Four sees a big shift on the part of the supporting cast, and many who once graced the halls of Crane, Poole & Schmidt have gone away and been replaced. The most prominent addition is John Larroquette as the new managing partner, Carl Sack. Given that Larroquette once starred in the definitive courtroom comedy series, “Night Court,” his presence holds immediate promise. At Shirley’s behest, Carl transferred from the New York office to whip the firm into shape, but the two have an ulterior motive, as it turns out they are clandestinely involved with each other - much to Denny’s eventual disgust. Sack immediately clashes with Clarence Bell (Gary Anthony Williams) over his cross dressing, and seems to have little patience for the personality quirks of Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson). But Carl finds out sooner rather than later that it’s better to join ‘em than to try to beat ‘em.
Three new women arrive as well: Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers), Lorraine Weller (Saffron Burrows), and Whitney Rome (Taraji P. Henson). Katie’s easily the standout, and also the only one of the three returning for Season Five. She’s on the ball and brings a great deal of intelligence and strength to the courtroom, but she’s also got a nurturing side, and the friendship she cultivates with Jerry is a season highlight. Lorraine starts out as an object of Alan’s lust, but the dynamic is one we’ve seen all too often with Shore and the lady du jour. Later on she gets bogged down in a very convoluted story arc that’s one of the more hollow, nonsensical things this show has done in the name of drama. Whitney has very little to do as the season progresses, and one begins to wonder why the character was introduced in the first place (an affliction that’s plagued this series as far back as Lake Bell’s Sally Heep in the first season).
The season deals with issues mundane, weighty and downright bizarre. Under “mundane” falls a weak ongoing storyline about Alan and Denny trying to join the Coast Guard that might’ve worked had it gone somewhere meaningful. In the “bizarre” category clearly resides Jerry’s romance with Leigh Swift (Mary Gross), who’s an objectophiliac. Um, no, I’d never heard of this fetish either, but “Boston Legal” informs me that an objectophiliac is someone who falls in love with inanimate objects, and at one point Leigh leaves Jerry for a clock radio. Perhaps only an actress as out there as Gross could pull it off with anything even remotely resembling realism. I’m not even going to begin to guess what Kelley’s point of view on this subject is, but he dares to treat the character with equal parts of ridicule and empathy, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes this show what it is. (Whether or not it works is another matter entirely, and you’ll have to decide for yourself if it does.) Under “weighty” falls tabloid TV, cloned meat, and standardized testing in high schools as just a few examples of the legal cases you’ll see tackled here.
Season standouts? “The Mighty Rogues” is an excellent piece of drama that sees Shirley’s father in the bleakest stage of Alzheimer’s, and her wish is to put him on a morphine drip, only to be told “no can do” by the hospital. Alan Shore to the rescue! “Green Christmas” is an especially prescient tale about home foreclosure (during the holidays, no less). Alan Shore to the rescue! The episode premiered last December, and kudos must be given to all parties involved for seeing the writing on the wall, given that such foreclosures became one of the hot-button issues of 2008. The best episode of the season, however, is “The Court Supreme,” which sees Alan Shore appearing before the Supreme Court in defense of a mentally challenged man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. It doesn’t take Kelley, oops, I mean Shore, long to move from the issue at hand into a full-on attack of the justices he stands before. It’s a scathing indictment that could only exist in the world of TV, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. I continue to be amazed by David E. Kelley’s ability to subvert entertaining television into his personal platform to bitch about the hypocrisy of the world around him. Hollywood folk often voice their views on the state of the world, but they don’t nearly as often use their resources and creativity to comment within their chosen medium. David E. Kelley does, and I applaud him for it.
Special Feature: Slim pickings, kids. Just one featurette called “The New Kids on the Courtroom Floor” which features interviews with the new cast members.