Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Season 3 Episode 10
Originally broadcast December 5, 2006
This is probably the most mature show on my list, what with all the lecherous behavior exhibited by the two main characters. However, it was on ABC, so if they are okay with it I don't see why I should be afraid of it. Even more than cop procedurals, I am usually not a fan of lawyer shows. However, this one has William Shatner in it, which is all it takes for me to watch a thing, apparently.
What is the show?
Boston Legal is a spinoff of The Practice, which was another (less Shatner-heavy) lawyer show by the same production company. Near the end of that show, they introduced the character Alan Shore, a conceited, bad-boy lawyer played by James Spader. I never watched The Practice, so I don't know how it ended, but I assume it was with Alan Shore giving a closing speech so devastating that the entire cast of that show immediately quit being lawyers. Boston Legal starts with Alan joining the prestigious Boston law firm Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. He continues his bad-boy antics, to the chagrin of most of the firm's senior staff, except for Denny Crane, the boisterous and deeply conservative head partner of the firm, played by William Shatner.
Anyway, it's your basic lawyer show (I assume, anyway). You've got plenty of courtroom scenes, judges and opposing lawyers played by an array of guest-stars, lots of topical and politically charged themes, and the occasional inter-office affair. Okay, so it was created by David E. Kelley, so those affairs are quite a bit more often than occasional. There's usually an "A" team and a "B" team in each episode, and each one gets a case that they have to do, with some sort of crazy twist that is almost too much to handle. However, they usually win out in the end, often by delivering an incredibly poignant closing argument (James Spader's delivery in this show is the reason I love him). The dialog is snappy and high-brow, the characters are interesting and reasonably diverse, and the classic David Kelley pace is front and center, driving you through each episode like a bullet train. It's just irreverent and self-aware enough to not be obnoxious about it, which is a fine line to tread.
More than that, though, Boston Legal is a show about faith in oneself. Early in the show, Shatner's character is diagnosed with essentially pre-alzheimers, and throughout the show he is struggling with that. Alan Shore often finds himself embroiled in cases with deep political and religious implications, and must fight the uphill battle of defending his liberal leanings in the rather conservative climate of the early to mid 2000's. One of the other senior partners, Shirley Schmidt, played by the always awesome Candice Bergen, struggles with being a powerful woman in a notoriously sexist and male-dominated field. Boston Legal shows characters constantly faced with challenges that question their deeply held beliefs. It's a show about sticking to one's guns (in the case of Denny Crane, sometimes that's literal). Of course, it's easy to stick to your guns when you're the "good guy" in a TV show, but the writers do pull the rug out from under us just enough to make us begin to question whether the team can really pull it off every time.
Sometimes they stray a little too far into silliness, especially with Shatner's character. It can feel a little exploitative and inappropriate, but those moments are somewhat rare, at least.
The cast is great, it needs to be said. Spader and Shatner are fantastic (I'm a huge fan of both, anyway). Candice Bergen is always a powerhouse. I feel like Mark Valley is a very underappreciated TV actor and it's great to see him apply his chiseled jaw and self aware sincerity here (does anybody remember Keen Eddie?). Rene Auberjonois does a great job as an eternally frustrated administrator (he has less makeup here than he did in Deep Space Nine). I think Julie Bowen is actually better in Boston Legal than she is in Modern Family. Constance Zimmer does a great job (in this episode specifically), and I'd love to see her in something else that's actually good. Gary Anthony Williams - Malcolm in the Middle regular - is a pretty great recurring character for a while. Plus later on John Larroquette shows up, presumably to reprise his role from Night Court.
What is the episode?
As you can imagine, it's Christmas Time in Boston. Much like yesterday's episode, this one is not really a Christmas story as much as it is just an episode of the show that happens to be during Christmas. In this episode, we get three cases, but each has a certain Christmas-ey theme to it. We have a mother trying to get her daughter to stop being anorexic facing off against the daughter's lawyer who is also anorexic, the family trying to keep their two young daughters who they raised to be a white-supremacist folk duo, and a woman who wants to sue God. Yeah, it's definitely a David E. Kelley show.
It does have that cutting, fast-paced wit, though. Alan Shore, eternal liberal, gets assigned the case to defend this legitimately awful white supremacist family, which is a perspective we don't always get in this kind of show. Even if it flies in the face of his judgement, he still has to do his job. That theme is carried through the entire episode, as two lawyers on the "B" team have to work together despite their continued hatred for each other. We also see the re-introduction of Gary Anthony Williams' shy, nervous (but brilliant) character Clarence. He applies for a job as his much more outgoing alter-ego Clarice, but is challenged with the difficult task of being himself.
Throughout the episode we see characters setting aside their comfort zones and personal preferences to do what needs to be done. If that isn't Christmas, I don't know what is.
Where can you watch it?
Here's the challenging bit. The DVD's are on Amazon, of course, but I can't really find a way to stream this episode anywhere. At least, not legally. I mean, you can definitely search for "Boston Legal Season 3 Episode 10" and you just might find something. I'm not telling you to do that, of course, but if you were to do that, I would say that you should watch out for ads and don't click on anything.
What do you need to know?
This show has a lot of running narrative that might not make much sense if you only watch this episode. On the other hand, the characters are pretty straightforward so I think you'll catch on to most of the stuff without the context of the rest of the series. At least, up until the last scene (the office Christmas party), where we basically get a parade of characters from previous episodes showing up, including Delta Burke (so there are actually two drag queens in this episode - just kidding). You don't really need to know who any of those people are to make sense of the episode, though, so I think you can just go with it.
Boston Legal is one of my favorite shows. I'm not exactly sure why, since I usually avoid lawyer shows. I feel like TV producers think that there has to be a lawyer show, a cop show, and a doctor show on some network at all times. Maybe they're super easy to make, or maybe they are just known to be successful, or maybe they always end up being successful because they end up being all that's on TV anymore. Whatever the case, they managed to actually come up with something fun with Boston Legal. Now if only they would put it out on Netflix.
While we're on the subject of surprisingly excellent examples of cliché TV genres . . .