And now, watch Spader in grand form once again, as Shore argues in support of passive euthanasia for Schmidt’s ailing father, referring at times to his growing concern and love for his dear (and unnamed) friend Denny Crane (Shatner), who is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s. Keep a box of tissues at hand.
Before these episodes were telecast, I was ready to argue from now until September that Bryan Cranston of AMC’s Breaking Bad deserved the Emmy this year for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor in a Drama Series. (Indeed, I recently asserted that an Emmy wasn’t good enough for the work Cranston does in this show and suggested that he receive an Oscar instead!) Further, I was perfectly at peace with the idea of Cranston losing to breakout star Jon Hamm of AMC’s Mad Men, a singularly stunning drama that I fully expect will be honored with the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. (Then again, I assumed that NBC’s Friday Night Lights would be similarly singled out last year, and it wasn’t even nominated!)
But Spader in recent weeks has been a game-changer. All Emmy bets are off.
Post-strike, Legal has also delivered timely stories about media manipulation and the power and responsibilities of that much misunderstood political fixture, the super-delegate. With The West Wing now just a pleasant memory, Legal is the only scripted series on television that dares to repeatedly address and force people to think about politics, and it does so with provocative gusto. Yes, the characters tend to preach, especially the lawyers in their passionate closing arguments. That doesn’t mean the viewer must agree with them. Both sides of every issue are presented within each story.
Critics of Legal complain about the bizarre sub-plots and lunatic characters that often run parallel to or intersect with its essential dramatic storylines. I dismiss their gripes as so much “poopycock,” a term favored by the increasingly befuddled Judge Robert Saunders (played by Shelley Berman, one of many wonderful character actors who appear in often-riotous recurring roles). Without its signature lunacy, Legal would be just another powerful drama about lawyers and the work they do, just like L.A. Law and The Practice when they were at the top of their games. The pervasive and invasive nuttiness makes Legal singularly distinctive and more entertaining overall than it might otherwise be, at least for those viewers who are wise enough to surrender to the will of David E. Kelley and his creative team, not to mention one of the best group of actors working in television. Boston Legal challenges easy categorization. That’s part of what makes it roar and soar as often as it does.