ABC’s ‘Boston Legal’ is ‘The Practice’ made perfect

  • By Victor Balta / Herald Columnist
  • Sunday, May 14, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

‘Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” are long gone, but they left us some great memories.

Even better, they left us a baby, an underrated little tyke that is quickly outgrowing its folks.

“Boston Legal” is a spin-off of “The Practice,” David E. Kelley’s streetwise Boston-based drama on ABC that ended two years ago.

But it could easily be considered the offspring of Kelley’s silly “McBeal” and the too-serious “Practice,” which used Dylan McDermott’s steely eyed glare to the point of absurdity.

“Boston Legal” is the sleeper among giants at ABC, pulling in more than 10 million viewers in its 10 p.m. Tuesday timeslot and racking up prestigious awards and nominations.

It was moved to Tuesdays this season after “Grey’s Anatomy” became such a force on Sunday nights. But the high-powered attorneys at Crane, Poole &Schmidt haven’t relented and are putting together a fantastic sophomore season.

The two-hour season finale airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on KOMO-TV, and includes guest appearances by Jeri Ryan and Michael J. Fox, who reprises his guest role from earlier in the season.

The secret to the success of “Boston Legal,” which last month won a Peabody Award, is its ability to mix an older generation of actors with a middle and new breed, and embrace all the things we wish we could do and say but never dare.

William Shatner and Candace Bergen are completely reinventing themselves, stretching their comic timing and ability to new levels.

Shatner, who has won Emmys for his role on both “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” plays Denny Crane, the possibly near-senile – but possibly just really eccentric – lead partner at the firm.

His name’s on the door.

Crane has something of a history with Bergen’s Shirley Schmidt, the partner who reluctantly returned to the office that was spiraling out of control under Crane and the third partner, Edwin Poole. Poole was checked into a mental institution early in the series.

Schmidt’s constant efforts to keep things under control aren’t generally helped by Crane’s quirkiness and the rebellious spirit of Alan Shore.

James Spader, who also double-dipped on Emmy wins with his role as Shore on “Practice” and “Legal,” makes the most of his inexplicable weirdness to mold a character who’s pretty far out there but almost always makes sense.

Shore and Crane’s weekly, episode-ending cigar and Scotch sessions pull every installment together without ever feeling like a device.

At the end of last week’s episode, Crane and Shore discussed their mutual attraction to a new lawyer at the firm, Marlene Stanger, played by Parker Posey, and their eagerness to see what’s to come.

“I can’t wait until next week,” Crane said.

Neither can we, Denny.

Victor Balta’s TV column runs Mondays and Thursdays on the A&E page. Reach him at 425-339-3455 or vbalta@heraldnet.com.

Victor’s Picks: ‘Prison Break’ jumps wall

Criticized all season for moving too slowly, “Prison Break” is taking off just in time.

The guys climbed over the Fox River Penitentiary walls last week, but as soon as they touched the soil of freedom on the outside, the guards were hot on their tails.

We’ll have to see just how far the guys get on their great escape, but it’s exciting enough to know that we didn’t have to wait until the finale to see if they’d make it out at all.

The season finale airs at 8 tonight on KCPQ-TV.

The chase can’t be nearly as tedious as the seasonlong effort to bust out, which means the one hour we have left before the long wait until the fall should be a nonstop flurry of action and excitement, leading to this season’s second-to-last episode of “24.”

It’s guys’ night out on Monday, and it isn’t even football season.

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