‘Boston Legal’: the last dance


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After last’s week’s revelation that Denny Crane’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse, it was hard not to suspect that Monday night’s final finale of “Boston Legal” would wind up with best friend Alan Shore either killing him or kissing him.

Instead, they split the difference and got married.

It was a fitting end to the most devoted, and deranged, couple on television. Since the show’s spin-off from “The Practice” five years ago, the friendship between Denny (William Shatner) and Alan (James Spader) has been both the anchor and the pixie dust of Davd E. Kelley’s award-winning show, with each episode ending with the two men out on the balcony, smoking cigars, drinking scotch and talking about the vagaries of the human condition. Through Denny and Alan, Kelley and his writers attempted to explore that elusive creature — male emotional intimacy — and in doing so launched a thousand knockoffs, now known in entertainment media parlance as “bromance.” But none of them hold a candle to the boys of ‘Boston Legal.’


So what if Alan took Denny to be his lawful wedded mostly to avoid tax laws and to ensure power of attorney? He loves the guy, as he managed to say at least 10 times in the course of two hours, which actually became a bit tedious. But Kelley wanted to make it clear: Denny and Alan, together forever, baby whatever.

It wasn’t the only point he wanted to clarify before parting ways with ABC. Because today marks the first time in 20 years that Kelley hasn’t had a show in prime time, it’s not surprising that he wrote the season finale himself, or that he took the show’s love of a good rant and dialed it up several notches.
A few final thoughts Kelley wanted to share:

China — he’s against it. Or at least the insidious takeover of the United States by the Chinese government under the guise of Chinese corporations, like the one that buys Crane, Poole and Schmidt. Shirley Schmidt (Candace Bergen) tried to stop the sale with an injunction (the Chinese will dismantle American democracy, she argued), Denny shot the new bosses with paintballs and Alan threatened to take them to court and sue them for wrongful termination and being, you know, Chinese, all to no avail. It’s Chang, Poole and Schmidt as evening falls over Boston.

Religion — against it. A truly ridiculous exchange between the priest and the rabbi at the rehearsal for Shirley’s and Carl Sack’s (John Larroquette) wedding not only allowed the conversation to veer wildly from the kidnapping of Christmas (You can’t even say the word anymore!) to the obsolescence of Israel (The Jews are doing fine! Why do they need their own state?), but it, rather unforgivably, handed Larroquette the pat little speech about how religion does more harm than good (all those wars, you know.)

Pharmaceutical companies — against them. When Alan and Denny go to the Supreme Court to argue that Denny be allowed to take untested drugs in the hopes of stalling his Alzheimer’s, the young attorney opposing them argues that if the pharmaceutical companies are given the least encouragement to dump untested drugs on the market, they will do so. Even Alan agrees.

The Supreme Court — against it. Before pleading for the court’s mercy, Alan offers a nice little takedown of their anti-little-guy, pro-big corporation track record; also the red light that goes off when a lawyer’s time is up. “Why don’t you play them off, like they do at the Oscars or the Emmys” he asks.

Gay marriage —-or it, only please to call it same-sex marriage so, of course, Alan and Denny can do it even though they aren’t now, and do not plan to ever become, gay.


It was a lot of insanity and lecturing to wedge into a strange yet occasionally moving two hours. But then that is what “Boston Legal” has been about from the start. For five seasons, it has tried to address adult topics in full paragraphs in the only way possible given television’s current devotion to immaturity and outrageousness — with characters so odd they defied gravity. (With his tie-flipping, teeth-grinding, jaw-adjusting, arm-waving and sudden piercing stares, Spader’s Alan was so tic-driven he often seemed in danger of bursting through not just the fourth wall, but the entire set.)

But it’s hard to fight the Industry’s slavish devotion to heat, real and perceived, its seemingly suicidal addiction to speed and novelty. And to a certain extent, “Boston Legal” refused to play at all, positioning itself as the eccentric yet occasionally endearing professor in the back of the room, the one who still sings Tom Lehrer in the shower.

Last week, Carl launched a suit against the networks, claiming that their dimwitted devotion to young people amounted to ageism and bad business sense, because people over 50 went to more movies, watched more television and bought more CDs than the alleged youth market. ‘Yet the only show in which the leads are over 50 is Bo—’ Then Larroquette addressed the camera. “But that would break that wall.”

“Boston Legal” has broken that wall many times, and many other things besides. But in the end, its final episode bowed, laughingly but honorably, to tradition. Alan won his case, Denny got his drugs, Shirley and Carl made up and they all got married at a Canadian fishing lodge.

A double wedding and a happy ending. Outside of Jane Austen, it doesn’t get more traditional than that. The final shot was of Denny and Alan dancing. Absurd and yet ... if you have to go out, why not go out dancing?

--Mary McNamara