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TV Series Review

Ally McBeal. Boston Public. Picket Fences. Chicago Hope. L.A. Law. Those are just some of the series conceived by mega-producer/creator/writer David E. Kelley. His latest drama, Boston Legal (ABC) is a spin-off from yet another of his predictably shameless creations, The Practice.

At upscale law firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt, conniving hotshot lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) is the bane of everyone’s existence. Everyone, that is, except legendary attorney Denny Crane (William Shatner), whose reputation wins cases single-handedly. The smooth-talking duo strut their stuff, often in defense of unusual clients such as an African-American girl who’s suing because she didn’t get cast as Little Orphan Annie. A recent addition to the team is Candice Bergen as Shirley Schmidt, one of the firm’s founding partners.

Granted, there are some interesting ethical dilemmas to ponder. When a psychologist’s patient fantasizes about murdering his ex-wife, is it OK to breach doctor-patient confidentiality? Or, with public safety at risk, should a law firm blow the whistle on its own corporate client? But then Kelley blows any credibility by trotting out a gay, cross-dressing Santa and introducing a subplot involving a one-legged prostitute.

Such absurdity is dwarfed by shoddy morals. Dishonesty. Blackmail. Extortion. And that’s by the lawyers. Crane beds clients’ wives and brags about sexual adventures. Shore seems to be the past, present or future lover of every female peer. In this testosterone-ruled world, men act like frat boys nudging each other toward sexual conquests, then boast as they share cigars and lots of alcohol.

Boston Legal hopes America will develop an affection for Shore and his colleagues who, despite their immoral lifestyles, are presented as the champions of what’s “right.” It’s the judges who are corruptible, weak-minded pushovers. One is so swayed by public opinion that he changes his ruling after Al Sharpton barges into the courtroom and elicits a standing ovation with an appeal for more homosexual Santas. Another cowers before Shore’s belittling manipulation. And the fact that Crane solicits prostitutes gets a wink and a smile from yet another unworthy judge.

All of this is part of Kelley’s greasy-spoon “usual,” which once again blends the moral and immoral into a twisted code of ethics guaranteed to make families lose their appetites.

Episodes Reviewed: Oct. 3, 24, Nov. 7, 21, 28, Dec. 12, 2004

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Marcus Yoars

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