David Kelley’s hit series The Practice ran for 8 seasons. While it may have started slowly, the show was a huge hit for most of its run. This success led to other hits like Boston Public and Ally McBeal. Unfortunately, the end of this series was a rather tragic tale itself. The last year limped along with about half of the cast having been fired. There were public wars of words waged. As Warren Zevon used to say: “Ain’t that pretty at all”. That final season would have been a total failure if not for the introduction of James Spader’s Alan Shore. This unethical cold character with a heart suddenly drew attention away from the conflicts off the screen and brought the attention appropriately back to what was going on on the screen. Spader pulls it off almost through a sheer act of will. By the end of the year it was apparent to everyone that something special was going on here amid these ruins. As the final story arc played out, Shore would meet Denny Crane, played in an almost self parody style by William Shatner. Man, that cat has more lives than Morris. Here Shatner finds a character that is funny as hell. Crane, like Shatner, appears to be the shadow of the man he used to be. At times he seems to have lost all of his marbles. He’s often cruel and incredibly arrogant. Yet, somehow he’s a very lovable character. Shatner does a wonderful job of balancing these foibles with an amazing touch of vulnerability that has created perhaps one of television’s most memorable characters.
Boston Legal is a lot like The Practice in some ways. The writing is at times pure genius. The same kind of moral and social issues are explored, all using the same ensemble concept from the original series. Still, Boston Legal is very unlike The Practice in almost as many ways. Certainly the Shore/Crane relationship has taken center stage, leaving many of the supporting cast in just that, supporting roles. The show also has a wicked wit to it. It’s sarcastic as hell. The big complaint I have is that Kelly can’t seem to control his own fanatical political beliefs. If the show weren’t just that good, I’d have turned it off after one episode. Free speech is one thing, but I do get so tired of Hollywood attempting to jam their liberal superiority down my throat. Believe it or not, there are some very decent and good folks who happen to support the American President. You simply don’t win people over by trying to paint them as ignorant, or worse, evil. I assure you I am neither.
Finally it should be noted that the Boston Legal found here in Season 1 is somewhat different from the show that aired this recent season. Gone are actors Lake Bell and Rhona Mitra. Rene Auberjonois has a more limited role at first. The show was also still finding its legs. The Crane/Shore relationship has grown from these early episodes. One of the best moments in that pairing comes when they disagree on how to proceed on a case. Shore sets Crane up to be inspected at the courthouse metal detector where he is found to process a weapon and pro Sadam Hussein propaganda in his briefcase, planted by Shore to keep him from getting to the trial in time. I have to admit that was the moment I realized just how good this setup really was. I often talk about character chemistry. These two have it aplenty.
Each episode of Boston Legal is presented in a 1.78:1 format. The picture is enhanced for 16×9 widescreens. This is pretty good stuff, and much better than the original broadcast prints. Colors are well defined and nearly reference. Black levels are strong. There’s great detail and contrast throughout. The episodes are consistent. There aren’t any blemishes or defects in the transfer that I could detect. Sweet stuff.
The audio is not much of an improvement over the broadcast versions. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track certainly delivers the necessary dialogue in true enough fashion. I was just expecting a little more ear candy. Of course, this is not an ambient effects heavy series, so you won’t miss anything. Everything is clean, if not terribly dynamic.
First off let me say how much I appreciate these single-sided discs. That courtesy is getting rare in the industry and, I believe, ought to be rewarded. The 5 discs are found in 3 slim cases tucked into a cardboard sleeve box. Thank you!
“Court Is Now In Session: How Boston Legal Came To Be” This is a very misleading title. It’s really all about the various characters on the show with some time spent on the writing. It includes most of the cast members and, of course, Kelley. It is quite obvious that Mitra and Bell were interviewed while still working on the series. They speak about their involvement in the present tense. The surprise here is I don’t recall them mentioning The Practice once. After all, that IS where the series came from.
“An Unlikely Pair” is an all too short look at the Alan Shore and Denny Crane relationship. It appears these guys have become good friends, and that has translated to their on screen chemistry.
“Deleted Scenes” All of these scenes are from the pilot. Most of them are alternative ways of giving the same information. For instance: in the unaired version we discover Denny’s secret at a board meeting. Also Alan and Brad’s final confrontation occurs with Alan and Sally on the balcony, not Crane. It’s obvious the pairing was not originally going to be so much of the series. This section begins with Kelley giving us some more background. Unfortunately, you can’t select any of the scenes individually.
I love this show, and you will too. The theme I find to be really annoying, but fortunately Fox provides a chapter stop immediately after the intro so you can easily step past it. This show has a strong cast and an equally strong wit. I am a little put off by how obviously The Practice is ignored in the extras. Best Buy did offer a bonus disc that I was able to get in on. It provides the final four episodes of The Practice so that you can see how it all began. I believe this is Kelley’s best work, due in no small part to James Spader and William Shatner. Or should I say Alan Shore and “Denny Crane”.