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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t seems almost pointless to write a review of this series at this stage. I mean, if you’ve not yet climbed onboard the “Boston Legal” bandwagon, well, it’s a little late now: the 12 episodes contained within this set are its fond farewell. There’s always a chance, however, that one of the uninitiated will read these words and feel compelled to check out a little slice of something they’ve been missing out on. I will, of course, tell you that Season Five is not the place to start. No, go back to the beginning and bask in it in a way that I did not. The initiated, on the other hand, will buy this set regardless of anything I have to say, yet they might be amused by my musings. Allow me to share.
Back when I first started writing for Bullz-Eye, one of the very first reviews I tackled was “Boston Legal: Season Three.” I had not really watched the show prior to that, though I tried on more than one occasion. In fact, when it first started, I thought, “Wow! A series with both Spader and Shatner? This is for me.” Then I tuned in, and hated it. It seemed like the show mostly amounted to Spader wearing various stupid hats and silly costumes, which to my mind, was far beneath the actor I’d long considered one of the finest in the business. I didn’t want to see him degrading himself, so I quickly ceased bothering to give the show any more chances. Time moved on, and “Boston Legal’ was shoddily treated by ABC through rescheduling, and it became a total non-issue. Then my mother, of all people, became a huge fan. She was constantly urging me to watch “Boston Legal” and insisted I would love it. I dared not explain to her my reasoning for failing to tune in, as surely she wouldn’t understand how I felt about James Spader whoring himself on a weekly basis.
Fast forward to my new editor Will Harris asking if I’d care to review Season Three. Since I was new to the Bullz-Eye fold, I felt I should play company man and agree. Besides, my mom had been urging me to check it out, and this was as good an opportunity as any. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Will. Without the two of you, I likely never would’ve given this show – which I’ve come to treasure dearly – a real chance. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did go back and check out the two seasons I missed, and as far as Spader goes? Well, Alan Shore is easily the greatest role of his career, and it’s almost a shame that he isn’t forced at gunpoint – perhaps by Denny Crane – to play the character for the rest of his life. Almost.
Despite Season Four of “Boston Legal” having a vague vibe of impending staleness, creator/writer David E. Kelley came roaring back with a vengeance for the abbreviated fifth season, knowing full well that it would be the series’ swan song. (Rumor has it that Kelley traded away creative control over “Life on Mars” on the condition that ABC would grant him this final block of episodes so that he could finish the series proper.) Within these 12 episodes, including a two-hour finale, the legal firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt go up against big tobacco, the military, and the USDA, as well as fight for teenage abortion and the rights of a woman who was fired (Cheri Oteri) because she voted for John McCain.
Interestingly, though, what the season is really about – more so than the legal battles – is three dysfunctional couples: Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) and Carl Sack (John Larroquette), Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson) and Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers), and Alan Shore (Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner). The drama is, more than ever before, focused on fleshing these people out and giving them their appropriate farewells, which is a good thing, because the folk are ultimately why we watch the show in the first place – and the six actors give it their all every step of the way.
Spader, it pretty much goes without saying, is at the top of his game, and has been since Day One of this show. Having already said what needs to be said about him (not just here, but in previous reviews), I’m going to move forward. Bergen has always been the center for this show, and once again she is here. But there’s a previously unseen vulnerability, and her work seems as if she’s reluctant to let go, but also eager to move on to the next stage. This is a Shirley who’s maybe more torn than we’ve ever seen her in the past, and it makes for gripping dramatic tension. Bergen is pure class, plain and simple. Larroquette, who only made it to second base in Season Four, totally knocks it out of the ballpark and takes it home. Sack comes into his own, possibly even leaving Dan Fielding in the dust, and based on these episodes, he’ll always be remembered as a true team player. There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing Clemenson has been on this series, and the truest testament to his craft is how much further he manages to take Jerry here; “Boston Legal” without Jerry Espenson is unthinkable. Summers’ Katie Lloyd, a freshman in Season Four, was kept on the show as a counterpoint for Jerry. It was a smart move, and a necessity for his character. She does the very best job possible given the circumstances –she’s very good, and aside from Bergen, one of the strongest females in the series’ entire run – but ultimately, due to the rules of drama, she’s never allowed to totally come into her own outside of being one hell of a lawyer and a possible love interest for Jerry.
Finally, I come to William Shatner’s Denny Crane. Shatner has long been the butt of far too many acting jokes, which at this point is, quite simply, wrong. His work in these final episodes proves exactly what a fan-fucking-tastic actor this guy really is. Here, Denny is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and he’s tragically slipping away little bits at a time. The horrible reality is that Denny knows this; he’s still cognizant enough to realize the misfortune befalling him. It doesn’t stop him from being Denny, the man who loves life, but it creeps into the narrative from time to time in ways that’s utterly heartbreaking, and most of the finale’s drama rests on the reality of what’s happening to him, and the lengths to which Alan will go to help save his best friend. “Boston Legal” ends with an absurdly appropriate celebration of the friendship of Alan and Denny. It takes it to the very edge and dares you to celebrate it, too. If you do not, then I just don’t understand why you’ve stuck with the series all these years, because I cannot conceive of an ending that’s stronger than what’s shown here.
But this is a TV show, and for all my adoration of Spader, perhaps Larroquette was given the greatest speech in the fifth season, when he represented Betty White in an age discrimination suit against the broadcast networks:
"The baby boomers, now all over 50, earn $2 trillion in annual income. That's trillion! Choose your statistic. Go ahead. I've got you. We've got more money. We spend more money. We watch more televisions, go to more movies, we buy more CDs than young people do, and yet we're the focus of less than 10 percent of the advertising. All the networks want to do is skew younger. Kids shows for kids. You know, the only show unafraid to have its stars over 50 is 'Bos -- ' gee, I can't say it. It would, um, break the wall.”
Many have bemoaned the end of “Boston Legal,” and last December when the finale aired, I was one of them. Funny thing, time. A month later Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, and with that appointment disappeared many of the obvious windmills at which Kelley and Co. tilted through the lens of “Boston Legal.” These days I’m thinking that the show ended precisely when it needed to. This is not to say that all is fine and dandy, and that the current administration is above criticism, but that’s for another series to tackle. And with any luck, David E. Kelley will be around to spearhead it.
Special Features: The “Boston Legal” sets have generally been lacking in extensive extras, but this time around, somebody, somewhere has wisely compiled nearly 70 minutes of goodies for your perusal. “Denny and Alan: Friends to the End” is exactly what you’d expect, with various cast and crew members chiming in with opinions on that most engaging of, um, well, the word starts with a “b” and rhymes with “romances,” yet I can’t bring myself to actually use it, because I’m sick of the overused term. “Denny’s Daughter: The Untold Story” features a wealth of excised material – an entire subplot, in fact – in which Kimberly Williams-Paisley plays Denny’s daughter. “Closing Statement: The Boston Legal Series Finale” is self-explanatory and a fitting tribute, even given its brief running time. Finally, “Stricken from the Record” showcases 11 deleted scenes from the season, each with an introduction from executive producer Bill D’Elia.