Boston Legal: Season 2 [DVD] [Import]
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Impressive in quality and quantity, the 27 episodes of Boston Legal's second season (2005-06) are a dazzling showcase for one of TV's greatest ensembles. Everything that made season 1 so entertaining is refined here, often to the point of perfection: As the resident bad boys of the prestigious Boston legal firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, senior partner Denny Crane (William Shatner) and maverick attorney Alan Shore (James Spader) continue their campaign of rampant indiscretion, combining unabashed sexism and political incorrectness with Denny's egotistical fat-cat sense of entitlement (and a touch of "Mad Cow") and Alan's passion for justice and courtroom theatrics. The departure of his girlfriend Tara (season 1's Rhona Mitra) has left Alan pensively lonely, so his male-bonding with Denny becomes the series' emotional core, even as it reaches new heights of hilarity in episodes like "Finding Nimmo," an instant classic in which Denny introduces Alan to the pleasures of fly-fishing. Back at the office, semi-regular cast member Betty White turns from murder to robbery, only to find herself redeemed as the new "sandwich lady" at C, P & S. And while senior partner Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) juggles the firm's ethical dilemmas and a rocky reunion with his drug-addicted daughter (superbly played by Jayne Brook), founding partner Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) dodges advances from her soon-to-be-remarried ex-husband (Tom Selleck) while suspecting Denny's soon-to-be-sixth-wife (Joanna Cassidy) of high-stakes gold-digging. In the midst of it all, Denise (Julie Bowen) faces threatening competition from a new attorney (Parker Posey) and elusive love with a dying billionaire (Michael J. Fox) while playing "friends with benefits" with colleague Brad (Mark Valley), who's only too willing to indulge their arrangement.
Expanded roles for Bowen and Valley are just two of this season's welcome improvements; along with Bergen and Auberjonois, they add engaging counterbalance to the Spader/Shatner juggernaut, while newcomers Justin Mentell and Ryan Michelle Bathe (as legal assistants) add youthful appeal in roles that necessarily remained marginal for most of the season. As always, series creator David E. Kelley (aided by a new writing staff) maintains a constant flow of outrageous behavior (most of it Denny's) and compelling courtroom trials based on hot-button issues including assisted suicide, the war in Iraq, private school discrimination, medical malpractice, tax evasion and a variety of other cases in which belligerent judges (played by Henry Gibson, Anthony Heald, Howard Hesseman, Shelley Berman, and others) play antagonistic foils to Alan Shore's impassioned defense. (It's here where Spader excels; Shore may be a lascivious lothario, but you offend his moral conscience at your peril.) A stellar array of guest stars, impeccable editing and cinematography, and glossy office production design make Boston Legal a constant feast for the eyes and ears, with breezy emphasis on the farcical goings-on at Crane, Poole & Schmidt. (The series' writing and production values are explored in brief but enjoyable bonus featurettes included on the final DVD in this seven-disc set.)
With Denny and Alan's season-ending visit to Los Angeles (where they defend a sexy celebrity played by Star Trek: Voyager's Jeri Ryan), it's delightfully obvious that Shatner and Spader are the heart and soul of Boston Legal, which is ultimately about the mutual affection of two men whose viewpoints are often as polarized as their friendship is compassionately co-dependent. Bolstered by clever allusions to Shatner's Star Trek legacy and throwaway references to their own status as characters in a TV show (as Kelley and his writers deliberately demolish the "fourth wall" of TV for comedic effect), Spader and Shatner quickly turned their episode-closing balcony scenes into an honorable tradition, where differences dissolve in the taste of fine scotch and slowly-savored cigars. They're bringing us the finest "dramedy" that primetime network television has to offer, and we'll gladly follow them as their crazy lives continue. --Jeff Shannon