Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ever-Changing Cast Of Boston Legal Changes Yet Again For Boston Legal - Season 3!

The Good: Decent characters, Interesting stories, Some truly inspired acting
The Bad: Moment when it's too silly, Too topical to hold up, Lack of decent DVD extras.
The Basics: An almost complete lack of DVD bonus features prevents a truly great - if very caught in the moment - show from making a decent DVD release.

I'm certain someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but it sure seems like Boston Legal had the most mature cast on television when it was on the air. In its third season, now on DVD, Boston Legal's youngest regular cast member was Constance Zimmer (at 35/36) who was added for the season. The peculiar thing about Boston Legal is that it seems obsessed with attempting to get a bigger market by continually introducing younger characters, who end up dumped by mid-season. "Season 2" (DVD set reviewed here!) was the worst featuring two new characters fresh out of law school. Why David E. Kelley and his team believe they must continue this foolish experiment in casting eludes me, but I try not to focus on that.

With the third season of Boston Legal, there is a lot that is far better to attract the attention of the viewer. In this boxed set, featuring all twenty four episodes, the firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, is once again hired to take on cases that hit close to home for American viewers. Over the course of the season, cases involving organ harvesting, people placed on the no-fly list by Homeland Security, victims of rendition and torture, and patenting blood that could cure HIV. In addition to the zany, there are the usual murder cases where the firm is turned upside down and against each other.

I'm a fan of Boston Legal, but it is in rewatching the series on DVD that one comes to realize how repetitive the show is. Indeed, there is not much in this boxed set that has not already been done in season one (DVD set reviewed here!) or season two. The biggest change is in the characters and in the topical cases taken by the firm. Indeed, David E. Kelley is the loudest writer on television today fighting the policies of the Bush Administration. The cases that seek to raise the public debate about the war, rampant homophobia, the use of torture, and the lack of universal health care make the supposed dogma of Michael Moore look like an intellectual appetizer. Sadly, Boston Legal is more likely than not to depress avowed liberals as Alan Shore, Denny Crane and Shirley Schmidt seem eager to make the cases that never seem to be made against the U.S. Government. That's unfair; in the last few years, many of the most controversial measures of many of the most controversial new laws have been struck down by the courts, which has just led Congress to pass (or renew) the laws with fewer loopholes. Sigh.

So, other than making the viewer think, inflaming liberals and depressing anyone who wishes that reality did not call for such artistic expression, the third season of Boston Legal is likely to lose its punch should the United States ever manage to pull itself out of its current backwards circumstances. That is to say, Boston Legal is an incredibly timely show. The cases fought in the fictional courtrooms provide the legal and ethical backbone for change or rebellion. But they are also arguing cases that are so extreme (like in "Guantanamo By The Bay" where Alan sues the government for torturing his client) that they would not have been plausible as debate or entertainment during, say, the Clinton years. As a result, when things like the Geneva Conventions are once again applied to the military of the United States, and the concept of torturing another human being once again leaves the public's fear-driven mindset, the episodes are less likely to resonate.

For now, though, they are pretty impressive, albeit somewhat preachy - especially considering the older audience that is likely to enjoy the show is also one of the strongest demographics against the current direction of the government. But more than a series of topical cases executed with humor and flair by the attorney's of the weirdest law firm on earth, Boston Legal is about those who make up the firm. In the third season, the principle characters include:

Alan Shore - After being left by "the Squid" (introduced at the end of the prior season), Alan begins to focus his attention on Jerry Espenson, whose awkwardness and intimacy issues prevent him from forming any other meaningful relationships. Alan assists Jerry on cases - which makes Denny jealous -, bends the law to save Shirley's life and finds himself defending Denny when the senior partner has his fat smuggled overseas for alternate fuel research. Late in the season, he finds himself getting involved with a judge,

Shirley Schmidt - Sued by ex-husband Ivan for the affair she had with him, Shirley spends most of the season cleaning up the messes of others. She is captured by a murdering client and soon after finds herself in her usual state of wondering whether Denny can handle practicing law for much longer,

Paul - Is he even in this season?! Seriously, he shows up . . . but is seldom used,

Brad Chase - Continuing his "friends with benefits" relationship with Denise, Brad soon finds competing with new partner Jeffrey Coho irritating. He decides to take the plunge with Denise, when she finds out she is pregnant,

Denise Bauer - Following the apparent death of her wealthy love, Daniel Post, Denise renews her interest in Brad, but finds herself more attracted to the irritating new partner, Jeffrey Coho. When she gets pregnant and determines Brad is the father, she looks to Brad for her future,

Claire Simms - A new associate, she jumps in at the firm defending Clarence and soon finds herself strangely attracted to him. She works to find her niche and while she originally comes off as distant, she soon is revealed to have a real heart,

Clarence - A recurring character who later joins the firm, he is painfully shy and takes on a female persona to adapt and interface with much of the real world. It is soon revealed that he is an adept lawyer and Claire brings him aboard to help her with cases,

Jerry - Recurring frequently and usually as opposing counsel, Jerry Espenson tries to overcome his painful shyness and Asberger's Syndrome by taking on other personas that allow him to adapt. His friendship with Alan leads him to fight legal battles better and he eventually comes to Shirley with an odd request,

Jeffrey Coho - A new partner brought in, he seemed to occupy much the same niche as Alan with his apparent insensitivity toward all, but secretly harboring a very real humanity. Jeffrey tries the first major case of the season, a murder trial wherein the wife of a judge is killed, and soon finds himself hooking up with Denise. When she ultimately rejects him, he leaves the firm (which is notable because most of the characters who leave the show simply disappear),

and Denny Crane - He begins dating a dwarf who turns out to be the daughter of a woman he formerly had a relationship with. As Denny goes through a rocky romance with Bethany, he takes comfort in the stability of his relationship with Alan. Still scatterbrained, Denny is forced to face his past when the son of a former client takes the firm hostage.

Indeed, the episode that deals with the hostage situation, "Son Of The Defender" is especially clever, melding footage from a 1957 episode of a show called "Studio One" in order to present flashbacks involving a younger Denny Crane (William Shatner). That departure makes for a very special episode and it is a shame it did not win the Emmy this year (it was nominated). It's a clever concept and the execution is flawless making it one of the few episodes in the boxed set likely to hold up over time.

And the real gem of Boston Legal that makes it worth watching and/or picking up on DVD is the acting. Boston Legal features a pretty amazing cast. This season, newbies include Craig Bierko (who I only knew from the terrible Scary Movie 4), Constance Zimmer, and Gary Anthony Williams. They are all good, but the seasoned cast is mindblowingly good. Indeed, Rene Auberjonois's best moments of the season come early when he is paired up with his Star Trek: Deep Space Nine costar Armin Shimmerman for some real tongue-in-cheek scenes. William Shatner reaffirms his ability to dominate using comedy and while there is little new in his performance this season, it's still refreshing to see him entertaining as a comic actor. Candice Bergen is given the chance to do something real different with the abduction storyline she is given and she reminds the viewer of just how amazing and versatile she can be. After all, robbed of all body language - she spends an episode tied to a chair - she still performs an emotive, fully-expressive performance that is incredible.

But it falls to James Spader as Alan Shore to keep much of the program interesting and watchable. Where season two gave Spader a chance to stretch his acting wings through a series of obstacles for Alan (like him becoming afflicted with word salad), season three finds him slowly re-establishing his confidence as his character evolves out of the often smarmy characterization he possessed in the earlier seasons. Spader uses the relationship between Shore and Espenson to infuse more humanity to the character and this gives him a chance to perform more subtle emotions and it works!

The DVD set includes scant bonus features, in the form of two featurettes, one on the judges, one on the defendants. These are pretty disappointing for the money, prompting more causal fans to simply stick around and catch the show in syndication rather than buying it on DVD.

But honestly, the time to buy this set is now. It's hip, it's relevant and it's entertaining. It won't be long - one hopes - before it is simply historic. And when that happens, this set will be a disappointment as it does not even provide the fans with commentary tracks.

For other works featuring Mark Valley, please check out my reviews of:
Fringe - Season 1
Once & Again - Season 2
Once & Again - Season 1


For other television set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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