Maybe producer David E. Kelley should always have a legal series on the air somewhere, simply because he’s so good at it — good at coming up with quirky characters, morally intriguing questions and off-kilter scenarios. Yet despite containing all those attributes as well as a top-flight cast, “Boston Legal” suffers from the pervasive feeling of been here, seen this. The show’s closer to “Ally McBeal” than “The Practice,” which provided the Petri dish to nurture and grow it. Kelley’s fertile mind still disgorges occasional gems, but for the most part here, he’s delivered more rhinestones than diamonds.
Largely picking up where “The Practice” left off, the series finds the amoral Alan Shore (James Spader, a deserving Emmy winner) at his new civil firm, headed by the buffoonish Denny Crane (William Shatner, who does everything but sing “Mr. Tambourine Man”).
Shore’s relationship continues with the stunning but callow Sally Heep (Lake Bell), but they’ve picked up additional supporting players. The new arrivals include Monica Potter and Mark Valley — the latter an instant rival of Shore’s inasmuch as he had a fling with Heep.
In what amounts to the A, B and C cases, an African-American mother wants to sue a production of “Annie” that wouldn’t cast her daughter based on race; a woman wrestles her jerk of a husband for custody; and a well-heeled client (Philip Baker Hall) wants a private investigator assigned to tail his wife, who has already admitted her infidelity.
That third plot line yields the premiere’s best moment, when Potter’s character asks cast holdover Rhona Mitra to flirt with the client, sheepishly telling her that she is “kind of nasty hot” — so hot, hopefully, as to distract the fellow from his original plans. (Said client is named Ernie Dell, by the way, though any resemblance to a certain high-powered entertainment attorney ends there.)
Kelley has assembled an extremely attractive, talented and (at least initially) lily-white cast. Moreover, Spader’s reptilian character remains like none other on TV — a lascivious, incorrect, self-absorbed boor who somehow manages to be appealing in spite of (or, God help us, because of) those traits.
The problem, alas, is that he and his colleagues are stuck hitting the same old notes — down to Shore’s rule-breaking solution to a seemingly intractable situation. What, no Eugene to come in and verbally box his ears?
So, yes, “Boston Legal” is smart, sexy and watchable enough, but for all that, Kelley seems to have exhausted much of his pixie dust supply. The possibility of a stronger lead-in and curiosity regarding the makeover could boost tune-in vs. last spring (it would be hard not to), but after years of making a Sunday-night appointment for “The Practice,” it’s time to move on and look for new relationships.
Honest, it’s nothing personal. As they used to say on “Ally,” bygones.