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  • Baltimore City Paper

Goodbye: Boston Legal, tonight, ABC, 9 p.m.


One of the more politically anarchistic television shows in recent memory says farewell tonight with a two-hour series finale from

Boston Legal

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. And this show's outright ridiculousness comes from an unlikely source, perennial middlebrow television scribe David E. Kelley, the man behind the heinous

Ally McBeal

, although that series provided the groundwork for some of the inspired mayhem of what made

Legal

such as blithe entertainment.

Legal

actually split the difference between the mannered wackiness of

McBeal

and the self-righteous seriousness of the show it spun-off from in 2004,

The Practice

. Like both, it's set in a fictional Boston law firm, and like both, it liberally mixes both serious-and fairly typical-courtroom drama with comic interludes. What makes

Legal

so much better than both previous programs is how it blends its intelligence and comedy, in a way that Kelley only sparingly employed on

The Practice

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, specifically when Steve Young's Eugene character used the "United States of America defense," in which he shamelessly appeals to a jury's patriotism to win a client's freedom. It was a closing argument monologue that hit both comic and cynical buttons at once, and Young's performance pushed it into the patently absurd.

Legal

became a show almost entirely of such inspired moments, thanks in large parts to the comedic team of William Shatner and James Spader. Both played outright stereotypes-Shatner's Denny Crane an aging pro-gun, free-market, liberal-hating conservative; Spader's Alan Shore an empathetic, well-educated liberal-but the show permitted the actors to push these one-dimensional cutouts far, far beyond hyperbole. That such outright polar opposites are best friends on the show is one of

Legal

's many, many curveballs.

As with

The West Wing

's later seasons,

Legal

gave you the feeling that its writing staff was creating the world it'd rather be living in on the show. Instead of resorting to sanctimonious idealism, though, it turned to pokerfaced ludicrousness, creating not only a comically metafictional show, but one that was surprisingly politically responsive as well. Dialogue frequently included in-jokes that revealed the characters knew they were on a television program-in one of the show's silliest moments, it seamlessly moved from pre-credit setup to credit sequence by having a character

sing

the instrumental title theme-and episodes touched upon topics in the media cycle with surprising timeliness. It skewered Republicans and Democrats with equally good-natured menace during this election year, and the firm's cases tackled Big Tobacco, the for-profit health care system, employment discrimination, and even fought capital punishment in Texas. Along the way, the show treated typically tasteless sitcom punch lines as facts of life as common as water: little people, sexual fetishism, sexual deviance, rampant promiscuity, erectile dysfunction, Asperger's syndrome, cross dressing, heterosexual adult male intimacy, and experimental medical treatments. And in perhaps in the show's most radical attempt to march to the beat of its own drummer, its cast ran through a casting agency's roster of physically attractive young actresses but the show's most unabashedly objectified female character is the sexagenarian Candice Bergen.

The kicker, of course, is that this blatantly insane television universe started to look more sane than the world that it lampooned. Adieu.

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