May 4, 2017, 11:23 pm
In the history of television, there has never been a better show than Boston Legal. The premise is simple: A group of lawyers practicing in Boston. One is a passionate, deeply flawed, yet painfully honest advocate, played by James Spader. Another is an eccentric, yet impressively brilliant and deceptively crazy founding partner, played by William Shatner. The friendship between the two is sublime, and uncoincidentally reminds me of my friendship with my friend, Jan Jordan.
At the end of every episode, they ruminate on a balcony in the gilded tower that houses their successful firm. Shatner, the conservative, and Spader, the flaming liberal, find common ground in the kind of platonic love men in America never really share with each other.
But the common thread that makes the show so great is the freedom of honesty most of the characters display in spades. Don't like someone? They say it without fear of the response. Think someone is stupid? They don't mind telling them. Shatner, in one episode, goes to court to defend the idea of someone "sounding black" on the phone, yet has no racism in his character at all. The show at once tears down the political correctness that has castrated American discourse, while defending the sensitivities that inspired that political correctness.
It is, in a single word, flawless.
You can, according to the show, be a feminist, while still understanding the male evolutionary prerogative to ogle. You can defend the equality of all races and creeds while still understanding the innate humanity of categorizing people by their races and creeds.
Something about the show makes it okay for people to be honest about their prejudices (not racial, not gender, but all prejudices) while defending the idea that prejudices are not okay when they affect other people's rights.
I have long said that I'm a Jeffersonian democrat, and by that, I mean I adhere to my paraphrased version of one of Jefferson's most powerful quotes: "Your liberty is absolute, and extends until it infringes on my liberty."
You're free to swing your fist until it connects with me.
I may not agree with why you're swinging your fist, but I really don't care if you do it. Until it hits my face. THEN, I care.
Honestly, I think if America reverted to that simple an understanding of freedom, we'd be a much happier place. And Boston Legal makes that ethos an entertaining exercise in understanding.
Alan Shore, the character played by Spader, is an extreme liberal. And Denny Crane, the character played by Shatner, is an extreme conservative. In the final wash, the show puts to lie the idea that extremism in either form should be tolerated. I obviously identify more with Spader's liberal character, but the show helps remind me that extremism is the enemy of actual and positive change. I'm a socialist. I'm a big-government liberal. But there are valid ideas on the conservative side of the spectrum as well. The show helps remind me that my point of view is absolutely extreme and has to be tempered with compromise if ALL of America is to be included in its idealistic tent. Idealism is the enemy of actual change. I have to be willing to compromise on my views if shit is actually going to be done.
Where else in entertainment can you find such a tempering view? Where else can you get an obviously liberal viewpoint challenged by the same writer from the conservative point of view? It is, and I say this without reservation, perfection in socially conscious entertainment. Liberals can love this show, and so can conservatives. What other show can you say that about?
One character, Crane, worries that in the afterlife, he will carry the ravages of Alzheimer's with him. Shore assures him that in the afterlife, we remain as we were in the best of times. With depthless love, Crane looks at him and says, "Like now?"
How can a show that makes me laugh so hard make me also want to cry? It's amazing, brilliant writing of which I am boundlessly jealous. Robby the R-Word makes me want to cry in several chapters, but I envy a writer who can so effortlessly make me want to laugh and cry in the space of two minutes.
Can I tell you I'm terrified of Alzheimer's? I've always had a problem associating names with faces. I have always seen people and known I should know their names, but I just don't. Never have. But what if that is one of the precursors of Alzheimers? What if the fact that you have to tell me who you are and why I should remember you is something to be alarmed about? I've been locally famous for 30 years, meaning tons and tons of people know who I am, and I have no idea who they are. But what if I should? What if that's all a sign of diminishing memory?
Boston Legal deals with those fears in a fearless way. It sets out on a path to face that reality without flinching—and make it funny at the same time.
The fact is, David E. Kelley is the creative force behind it, and Ally McBeal and The Practice and Picket Fences. It really only proves that he is an amazing writer, and I envy his ability to effortlessly weave entertainment and social commentary together. I find absolutely nothing in Boston Legal to nitpick. And I kind of hate Kelley for it.
I can only get the final season on iTunes, but even though I don't own a DVD player, I'm seriously considering buying the rest and buying a DVD player, simply so I can re-watch all the episodes I miss so much. I've watched them all before, but I want to watch them again.
And if you know me, you know that's the best endorsement I can make for a TV show.