Boston Legal is a show about an insane asylum masquerading as a law firm. It is filled with quirky and demented characters, whom, in real life, would not only not be practicing law but would not likely be allowed to walk the streets without a court ordered ankle bracelet. The chief inmate of this menagerie of weirdoes, perverts, and nut cases is one Alan Shore, played with insolent alacrity by James Spader. Spader is best known for having played Dr. Daniel Jackson in the film Stargate, which became a hit TV series in its own right on the Scifi Channel.
Alan Shore, who began life on a previous legal drama, The Practice, is a real piece of work. He is sexual maladjusted, a physical coward, a person who suffers from unexplained night terrors, and is everyone’s nightmare parody of a limousine liberal. His saving grace is that he is eloquent to the point of glibness. Whether he is executing the perfect cutting remark to one of his many enemies at the firm or whether he is doing one of his bizarre, politically biased closings that always seem to win the day for his clients, Shore demonstrates rhetorical skills not seen since Cicero last walked the Earth. Or at least Robin Williams when he used to be coked up.
Shore cannot form lasting relationships with women. His glib charm and his impeccable grooming and dress are enough to get them into bed. This is something, by the way, that perplexes Shore’s enemy, Brad Chase, a former Marine, a rough, buff kind of guy (Shore is soft and slightly overweight), and a man so full of himself that he dare not take a drink of water lest he overflow. Shore rarely expresses tender feelings toward any of his women, though, even fellow lawyer Tara Wilson, the very leggy, luscious Briton with whom Shore spent much of Season One.
Not so with senior partner Denny Crane, played with surprising suppleness by William Shatner, the former Captain James T. Kirk and master of the art of over acting. Crane, a lawyer once respected and feared in Boston legal circles, but now in his dotage, is Shore’s one sole friend in all the world. They spend endless time together out on the balcony, professing their endless admiration for one another over cigars and sniffers of brandy. Is there something going on here? Maybe, but Denny Crane, confirmed and self confessed homophobe that he is, is oblivious to it.
Shore is currently in pursuit of another of the senior partners, Shirley Schmidt, played by Murphy Brown’s Candice Bergen. Shirley is old enough to be Shore’s mother and is a bitch to boot. Yet Shore is drawn to her somehow, even to the point of making crude passes that would fetch anyone else working anywhere else a sock in the jaw or at least a trip to human resources for sensitivity training. If it were not for Shore’s total contempt for any authority, one would think he is developing a mommy complex.
But the one thing that makes one want to reach inside the television and give Alan Shore a good slap is his politics. While this aspect of the character is likely typical of North Eastern attorneys, it is really maddening when it creeps into Shore’s closing statements. He peppers these speeches with a lot of non sequiturs about how much of a dolt President George W. Bush is, why the Iraq War is Vietnam, and why the death penalty in Texas seems designed to snuff as many African Americans as possible. These speeches are clearly designed as a soap box for the political views of Boston Legal’s show runner, David Kelley. They are as irritating as hell.
Shore is, however, if nothing else, an honest liberal. He will defend clients he finds personally repugnant if it fits his sense of ethics. A recent example was a custody case involving the twin girls of a family of white supremacists. Shore rightly considered that if we were to take children away from parents solely on the basis of the political beliefs of the latter, then there would be no end to the kind of legal mischief that would ensue. Of course Shore could not help but offer one of his politically biased closings in which he condemned the Patriot Act and suggested that President Bush was a dolt for not being as inventive as Benjamin Franklin. The problem is that baring Archimedes and Thomas Edison, no one in history was as inventive as Benjamin Franklin.
Shore’s politics do not, however, have any basis but gut feeling and a certain shallow glibness. When Denny Crane suggests that a withdraw of troops from Iraq would mean terrorist attacks in the United States, Shore could only answered that he “disagreed.” Not exactly a detailed response. For all of his pretensions of superior learning, Shore does not seem to have an intellectual basis for his political beliefs.
Nor is there a good conservative foil for Shore to play against. Denny Crane is supposed to be a right winger, but he is the liberal parody of a conservative, forever muttering about the “commies” and yearning for the death of the Bill of Rights. He did have a good line about what is right about America. America is a country where one can still make money and “shoot the bad guys.” Who can disagree with that?
What is next for Alan Shore? I predict a couple of more seasons of Boston Legal, and then another spin off. Call it Congressman Shore. Whether he is a closet homosexual or just someone who can’t relate with women with any more depth than vessels for his lust, Shore should be right at home in the Congress. But we should only hope that by the time Shore is elected to the House that the Republicans have taken it back. Shore’s contempt for authority would be somewhat politically awkward if that authority is Nancy Pelosi. Of course, noting Shore’s new found taste in older women, there are possibilities for all sorts of mischief here.