Dylan McDermott’s Bobby Donnell character in The Practice gave us eight seasons and 147 of the show’s 168 episodes, the program evolving into Boston Legal, a spinoff that had great promise. Unfortunately, that promise went unfulfilled as the program suffered from dual personality, the lighter side of things developing a new audience that probably forgot all about some of The Practice core characters, Camryn Manheim as Ellenor Frutt and Michael Badalucco as Jimmy Berluti.
At the onset James Spader and William Shatner sparkled as The Practice began the morphing process, but something got lost in the translation with the personalities often dipping in to too much parody. Golden Girl Betty White as Catherine Piper and long-time veteran actor from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, Henry Gibson as Judge Clark Brown, were terrific as comedy asides, and that should have been enough for the light-heartedness.
For this viewer’s tastes James Spader and Shatner both lost their edge and tilted more awkwardly towards the levity that White and Gibson gave to the show, too much sugar and not enough grit. The elements of The Practice which made Boston Legal so effective when it emerged got traded away for too many twists and too many jokes. The Denny Crane Denny Crane mantra faded like Shatner’s character’s faculties, but despite all those drawbacks, somehow, the two hour finale tied things up pretty nicely and, itself, was a pretty good package of entertainment.
The selling of the firm to a Chinese company and the racial divide made for some brilliant bickering on both sides, all indignant parties creating the comedic drama that is hard to generate and even harder to sustain.
Candice Bergen – ever the rudder and sometimes voice of reason – seemed somewhat pedestrian marrying off John Larroquette’s Carl Sack. And Shatner marrying James Spader for the purpose of transferring funds was a true monkey wrench and a pretty good look at two heterosexual men going beyond the inane humor of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck” and using the new law to their financial advantage.
The always brilliant Roma Maffia as Judge Victoria Peyton just didn’t have enough facetime, and her almost cameo role indicative of where the show went wrong. Take a look at Boston Legal on the IMDB or Wikipedia sites to see the plethora of great talent which drifted in and out as if through a revolving door. With the loss of McDermott, Manheim and Badalucco from The Practice, Boston Legal could have used the steady persistence Maffia, Craig Bierko, Monica Potter and even Rebecca De Mornay (Tom Cruise’s Risky Business gal from the last moments of The Practice) all brought to the program.
By trying to be all things to all people Boston Legal developed two different audiences – those who loved the transition time from The Practice to the new show, and those who totally absorbed the zaniness that I feel led to the show’s demise. The transfer of the firm to a foreign group and the interesting concepts that credibly made their way from sub plots to front and center all combined to make the last two hours a good wrap up, but not nearly as good as the show was when it first came to life.
TV is in need of something to fill the void – and wouldn’t a new, more serious show, with castoffs Roma Maffia, Craig Bierko, Monica Potter and Rebecca De Mornay fit the bill very nicely?