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Boston Legal - season five
cast: James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Christian Clemenson, and Tara Summers

creator: David E. Kelley

535 minutes (15) 2008
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
The boys are back! This DVD boxset offers yet more grown-up television comedy-drama for people who'd still like to grow-up even more by learning a few things. For a rundown on setup and origins (which I won't repeat here) for this TV show, see this website's review of season one.

This final season lacks some of the short-fused intensity and live-wire sparkiness that characterised earlier, more spirited, seasons. Perhaps that noticeable weakness is evidence of lower ambitions and less commitment from the writers and main cast due to the show being axed ("outrageous" - as Judge Clark Brown might opine) by its broadcasting network. Happily, though, whether you appreciate this for its witty comedy or character-driven drama, Boston Legal maintains its unique ability to focus (with mightily impressive clarity, honesty and wisdom) upon numerous vital issues of the day, and to frame - albeit with variable skill and irreverent cynicism - important questions relating to social, political, cultural, and industrial concerns.

Although the stars' droll banter is occasionally reduced to self-parody here, James Spader and William Shatner are both still on good form, so even their downplayed efforts are worthwhile. Together, they create necessary shifts in furiously ranting moods and controversial tone for the show to function, most efficiently, whenever it switches from analyses of post-industrial or multicultural quirks in 21st century America, to grandstanding - yet nonetheless emotive - polemics, usually delivered with sincerity and passion by mercurial Alan Shore (Spader), while the belligerent Denny Crane (Shatner) continues to play the old fool -sometimes with genuinely affecting pathos. In this legal practice's supporting-role of much-married Shirley Schmidt, veteran actress Candice Bergen confidently hones feminist putdowns and heartfelt judgements to perfection.

Tackling cases based on the lethally addictive products of the tobacco industry, the rights of teenagers to vote, matters of self-defence and concealed weapons, getting away with premeditated murder, 'malpractice' in a US Army hospital, adultery for cowboys in Utah, the pros and cons of voting for John McCain (and the challenges faced by 'stupid' people in socially-skilled employment), Chinese infanticide (and abortion, identified as the most objectionable story-topic for TV channel-surfers), the crucial differences between mercy-killing and manslaughter in a botched state execution, the individual's rights to self-medicate for survival or development, and more besides, ensure this season (of just 13 episodes) has a wide-ranging showcase for cutting-edge litigation and poetic justice.

On the personal and personalities front, there's Denny's impotence and Alzheimer's disease, Alan's prowling sexism, disparate troubles for Shirley's granddaughter and Alan's nephew, the simmering riot of caustic barbs and prickly emotion unmasked by an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at Shirley's house, and the welcome return of administrator Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) for essential negotiating duties in closing episodes where the firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt is sold off, in a hostile takeover plot, to a Chinese corporation. Finally, there's one last argument for Shore before the US Supreme Court, and a hastily organised and unconventional double-wedding of two decidedly 'odd couples', which provide Boston Legal with a routine (by this programme's eclectic standards) yet nonetheless delightfully absurd 'happy ending' for all.

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