James Spader keeps 'Boston Legal'

By Mike Duffy
KRT News Service

Appalling legal scoundrel or unscrupulous courtroom delight?

The twisted truth is that Alan Shore rather merrily blurs the line between appalling and delightful.

And as played with devilish sardonic wit and a scheming twinkle in his eye by James Spader on ABC's ''Boston Legal,'' the raffishly amoral Shore is the most enjoyable thing to happen to courtroom drama in years.

Last season, Spader joined ''The Practice'' for that show's farewell tour, a very shrewd move by series creator David E. Kelley.

All of a sudden, what had devolved into an overwrought courtroom melodrama was fun again.

The show's sudden creative resurgence earned Spader critical raves and a surprise Emmy for his lead performance. Now comes the more difficult task for Kelley and Spader. That's staying in the same refreshingly humorous groove with ''Boston Legal,'' the promising spin-off that premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

The glumly self-righteous legal crusaders from ''The Practice'' are gone.

And we're swept from the gritty world of criminal defense attorneys to the glossy surroundings of a hotshot firm of Boston civil litigators. It's a top-shelf corporate operation run by William Shatner's cockeyed loon Denny Crane, who first arrived on the scene in the final weeks of ''The Practice.''

''Don't waste your time trying to get in my head. There's nothing there,'' the screwloose Crane informs a colleague in the opening episode of ''Boston Legal.''

Yes, anyone familiar with the wacko courtroom universe of Kelley's ''Ally McBeal'' may well sense some echoes of that surreal eye candy in ''Boston Legal.'' But there's a darker, more emotionally complex edge to Alan Shore. He's no shallow nitwit even if Shatner's wigged-out Denny Crane is encouraged to get in touch with his inner legal clown.

The show's attractive and well-matched supporting cast includes late-period ''Practice'' sex bombs Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra) and Sally Heep (Lake Bell), as well as new legal eagles Lori Colson (Monica Potter) and Brad Chase (Mark Valley, ''Keen Eddie'').

In the centerpiece case of the series premiere, Alan Shore represents an unhappy African-American stage mother who thinks racial discrimination prevented her daughter from winning the lead role in a national road company of ''Annie.'' Oh my.

''I'm afraid there's been a terrible mistake. I don't do musical comedy,'' Shore tartly informs the mother upon their first meeting.

Not to worry. Shore's sly courtroom wizardry will soon work its conniving magic.

And along the way, so does the entertaining ''Boston Legal.''

Copyright © 2004, The Morning


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