If you read the last two reviews, those of Castle and House of Cards, a) you’re awesome and clearly, very intelligent people, and b) you know what I talked about, which things I highlighted. I talked about the perfectly placed moments of beauty that punctuated your run-of-the-mill crime drama, and about unbridled ambition, lust for power and politics. However, in a slight change of pace, the show that I’m reviewing here is about absolutely everything. And that’s not a hyperbolic claim. In no other show will you find an old Captain Kirk dropping his pants mid-closing argument in a high profile case to reveal satin boxers with a bulls-eye painted on the hind, the best/most intelligent/sensitive/purely baller/a little chubby playboy-lawyer to grace television who extends his unwashed hand to the named partner of a globally reputed law-firm and justifies it by saying “I keep an extremely clean penis”, and in no other show will you a find a friendship that is the envy of every single person.
“Baring your ass to 24 attorneys, including 2 from overseas. That is an unprecedented triumph.
I’m just distraught I didn’t think of it myself.”
William Shatner (a Canadian, by the way) takes on the role of Denny Crane (two words you hear all the time on the show) an almost senile, legendary lawyer, self-pronounced Republican and a Red, White and Blue American, with a propensity to shoot people on the street, in a courthouse, in his office and not get prosecuted for it, with an uninhibited (either by age or rejection, or even prison) desire to sexually harass every woman he sees, of all sizes and appearances (in fact, he’s so indiscriminate that he doesn’t mind female dolls either). James Spader, on the other hand, reprises the role of Alan Shore, the most titular yet inspiring character to appear on TV, nonpareil attorney-at-law, a liberal and Democrat (declared so by Denny Crane, of course), righteous in approach, brilliantly eloquent, with a sexual magnetism outranked only by Denny Crane (or so he says), and a man of principle.
“Denny Crane, eh?”
Boston Legal, though mired in the murkier part of the evening schedule when it was first aired, is unarguably the unparalleled court-room/legal drama show ever to air on television (no Suits fans, Suits is not a court-room drama). Set around the misdemeanours and the exploits of these two best friends, and around the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, the show has absolutely everything—a named partner showing up for a staff meeting in the pilot completely unaware of the fact that he is there sans pants (and underpants!), a Ken doll which speaks faster than Zack Snyder ruins legendary franchises, hostage situations, an episode called Roe v Wade: A Musical and, most strikingly, a searing indictment of the state of America and the world.
I first began watching the show around the age of 14, when the reruns were being aired, and around the time when I was beginning to try out debating at school. Among the myriad things that one learns from Alan Shore about being honourable and principled (or sexually overbearing and eccentric), the most impactful are his closing speeches. When he stands in front of the jury, looks to the distance and begins with an analogy or an experience or with facts that hit hard, you know that something powerful is coming your way. In the most remarkable of ways, he takes the issue at hand, expands it to a whole larger problem posed to society, to our innate humanity, and forces us to examine the flaws in our world. Alan Shore was the person who went down to Texas to argue a case with their High Court and ended up berating them for the ease with which they hand out the death penalty, he is the character who goes to the Supreme Court and rebukes all nine Supreme Court justices for having sold out to politicians and corporations. This was a character that stood up and argued his heart out for what he believed to be right. That’s perhaps what rubbed off most on me—for the sake of argument, one can debate anything. But what is truly challenging is to stand up for one’s beliefs and to convince others to try and change the world with him/her. That’s what Alan Shore does so well, and that’s what makes the jocose, head-strong and charismatic lawyer such an elevated figure in the show.
“I promise you. By the time I finish tomorrow, those judges – every last one of them – will rise up and say ‘Never mind executing Ezekiel Borns. Let’s kill Alan Shore instead.'”
While credit is most certainly due to the writers for creating such an epochal character, the reason he comes alive is only because of James Spader’s masterful delivery and emotive ability. Spader assumes the robes of the role as though they were tailor-made for him. Emotionally closed, always ready with a quick comment, equally cutting whether directed at a Judge or at a peer, incredibly perceptive and shameless, which make for a very dangerous combination (standing in the middle of the hall-way amid a number of staff and client, watching two people argue, he raises his arms, holds them a little wide like a chubby little Messiah and exclaims, “Wait a minute. You two have had sex.” FYI, one of those was his girlfriend and the other was a superior), James Spader is perfect—the calm, unflappable man, vulnerable yet cordoning off his innermost depths of darkness at all times, snapping at people in an adorable yet perverse manner. If I seem to be running out off adjectives here, it’s because I am. And that’s not because there is almost nothing to the character of Alan Shore. On the contrary, it’s that there is so much that meshes together so well, perfect in its wholesome and complete fulfilment, like pizza and cheese, like blue outfits and brown shoes, like Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, that to try and selectively pick out individual characteristics would belie the overall brilliance of the act itself. If there is one way I can sum up James Spader/Alan Shore, it is in the four words that Carl Sack, another one of his superiors, says to him after he argues in front of the Supreme Court. After he berates the justices and risks losing the case just to tell those at the bench that they’re doing something wrong and not upholding democracy like they are supposed to, he tells Alan, as a superior is bound to, how he was out of line and should have stuck to the case and been respectful to the court. But he ends with four words that negate everything he says. Slowing down and imbuing his voice with unbridled adulation, showing his awe with an impeccably timed caesura, he ends his speech with “You really are something.” I don’t think I could find a better way to express the sentiment.
“We can do this my way or another way that will have you writing a very large check and crying like a baby.”
In the most Denny Crane way possible, through 5 seasons, Denny Crane struggles with Alzheimer’s/Mad Cow/Mad Calf (his words, not mine) disease. Going from a legendary lawyer who is yet to lose a case to saying “Denny Crane, cuckoo for coco-puffs” to reporters in the midst of a high-profile murder case. Bringing down the house, like only Denny Crane can, he gets almost-married thrice, married once, has a pants-down scenario in an elevator, in a courtroom and in his office, shoots people with paintballs from his office and fires people for being fat. But it is the persisting friendship between him and Alan Shore, how they can be at the opposite ends of a case, exchange bitter words all the way through it and yet hug it out at the end, that is truly wonderful. It’s fitting that every episode ends with the two of them, sitting in a balcony in their firm’s building, drinking whiskey and smoking a cigar, talking about the day and how it went, exchanging opinions, uninhibited by any sense of precariousness or pretention, and just being the best of friends through all of their problems. Perhaps this isn’t the case with everyone, but such a friendship, where someone takes out the time for you, to be so unfailingly persistent so as to sit with you everyday, even for only a few minutes, discussing the problems in life, unburdened by the dread of judgement or the ire of someone foreign, is the envy of everyone.
“Shirley, the truth is I only took this case to be in court with you. I enjoy your company. So, if I can’t join you on cases, I’ll just have to oppose you. Or I could just oppose you right now against the wall. That would certainly make me happy.”
In so many ways, Boston Legal is the ideological ancestor of the lawyer shows that came after—the main attraction of the show is the unbeatable, honourable lawyer who dresses sharply and is a ladies-man. But for all the Harvey Spectres we may see, there will never quite be another like Alan Shore, someone who can berate the Supreme Court, someone who tells the District Attorney, in court, that he is his favourite attorney because against him, Alan has always won. No one will have the panache (read: swagger) to boast to a named partner, a brilliant lawyer and a beautiful woman over twenty years his senior about the cleanliness of his genitalia, the ability to hold on to his values and principles working for a corporate law firm (occasionally representing people against the clients of the firm) and to add to that, the innate kindness to help someone with Asperger’s syndrome, to be complicit in the attempted murder of an old woman by her peculiar son (who was too old to live with her) just to help him and to take on (and to keep on) an elegantly funny Betty White as his secretary after she almost shoots two people. The show is brilliant, a must-watch for everyone who craves entertainment and wants to see William Shatner lose it on a daily basis, James Spader bring to life one of the most engaging characters ever and wants to laugh, admire, wonder and hope to be him one day. Formulaic, yes, geeky, a little, but Boston Legal delights, charms and powers its way into one’s heart, with Alan Shore leading the charge, and it actually does what most other things (largely TV shows) fail to do—make you feel better about wasting your time digging up an old show to watch.