Roush Riff

The new leading man of “The Practice” is a reptile cross-bred with a weasel. Not that we’re complaining.

“I feel…icky,” says James Spader as the quietly cunning disgraced lawyer Alan Shore, making an unnerving first impression as he begs Camryn Manheim’s Ellenor for a job at her newly under-inhabited law firm. Imperious and lecherous, smugly eccentric as he plays fast and loose with the law, Shore appears at times to be channeling the spirit of Richard Fish, the cad from producers David E. Kelley’s quirkier “Ally McBeal”.

When Shore makes an inappropriate come-on to a young woman who has taken his homeless client to court, it’s a vulgar moment that smacks of Kelley excess. And yet Spader brings enigmatic nuance to this well-heeled heel. It’s a welcome respite from the show’s earnest though often compelling style of melodramatic fireworks.

It “The Practice” had been better the past few years, the show’s radical redo might be more disturbing. But after an extended period of overwrought nonsense, it’s refreshing that, in the first two episodes, only one line of dialogue refers to the cast purge between seasons. No crocodile tears, no tortured exposition. They’ve moved on. So should we. With Spader in the house, it’s not really such a chore.

© TV GUIDE October 4-10, 2003, Article by– Matt Roush (Thank you, Anais!)