The Best in TV #1 - Boston Legal
Listen, do you want to hear a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Well, my lovely clever smartphone announces a new caller with a breezy "bah, bah, bow bow bow bah bah da da". Whenever it sounds in a room full of strangers, I can immediately work out who is in on the secret. I can discern who knows about "flamingos", necks and "word salad" and cares about liberal pinko issues. I immediately know who has laughed at the phrases "Klingons?" and "I once captained my own spaceship".David E Kelley is an amazing man. First off, he's married to Michelle Pfeiffer and has been for some time - well done sir. More pertinently he is the creator or co-creator of (deep breath) ...Ally McBeal, The Practice, Chicago Hope, Harry's Law, The Crazy Ones, Monday Mornings, Boston Public, Picket Fences, Lake Placid and Boston Legal. All of this from a lawyer who got a little sidetracked with his hobby of writing. Since the late eighties, Kelley has been contributing or writing a major network TV show, or three, and shows no sign of stopping even if The Crazy Ones is no highpoint in his career.
Typically his shows have been about lawyers or doctors or teachers, dealt with the politics of the day and the ethics of the profession. Tonally, these shows have varied from the earnest, thriller like, The Practice to the often surreal and extremely meta masterpiece that is Boston Legal. As a show runner his input has varied from very very hands on with the latter, to much more distant like the middle, much weaker, episodes of Chicago Hope. All of his shows have had extraordinary characters at the centre of them, a desire for diversity, and a tight grip on the nonsense of the human psyche. For all of it's story lines about the death penalty, abortion, corruption and big business, Boston Legal is really a story of a friendship. After a few episodes, the writing hit upon the idea of completing each episode in the company of these two friends and continued to develop from there. These two friends nurse each other through heartbreak, degenerative illness, professional failure and eventually end up married despite the homophobia of one of them. The friends are pinko Democrat Alan Shore and gun toting Republican Denny Crane.
Alan Shore first appears in Kelley's work in the final season of The Practice, along with Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra) - another transferee to Boston Legal. Shore starts as a disgraced anti-trust lawyer forced into doing good works who then evolves into the tub thumping commitment phobe working at Crane, Poole and Schmidt. As Shore, James Spader is sometimes charmingly repulsive, delectably flawed and often a child lost in an emotional maze. And he's a lecher, a serial womaniser entering middle age disgracefully. It is his fondness for women, drink and cigars that brings Alan together with Denny Crane. Crane is a living legend, played by the Shatner, who has never lost a case but is beginning to lose his marbles. His constant badinage with the younger female staff makes him a sorrier figure than Alan and his wrestling with his mental decline is what really brings the viewer in. Denny's prejudices lead him to difficult romances with a little woman, shooting a client and constant rows with Alan about events in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he is a loyal friend and Shore and Crane are perfection together.
Five seasons allowed this friendship to really develop and for the differences of red and blue America to get a thorough airing. Kelley is dangerous at times, often taking potshots at Fox, the network producing the programme, and depicting the existing supreme court justices in far from admiring light. His genuine anger at the injustices of law and the world at large is mirrored in Shore, who often becomes the voice of truth regardless of whether he's listened to. And there's Jerry, the lawyer with his skips, hops and circling walk. And there's Betty White being gleefully eccentric. And there's John Larroquette, Rene Auberjonois, Julie Bowen, Candice Bergen, Mark Valley and the sexy, mad, bitter and wacky judges. Not to mention Saffron Burrows' neck which nearly gets a series of it's own.
The show ended six years ago now, but if you're ever in need of fun, stimulation and the best testament to friendship there is, then 101 episodes exist and you should chase 'em down. Boston Legal is my favourite show of all time, should it be yours?