[As the Top 10 Comedy and Drama series contenders have been released, and since Gold Derby has been kind enough to grab us the episode titles, I’m going through each submission judging its quality and its potential on the panel. Here’s the first Drama Series in contention, a nominee last year that looks to return.]
Boston Legal (ABC)
Episode: “The Court Supreme”
Synopsis: Having gained a reputation as a staunch opponent of the death penalthy, Alan Shore (James Spader) is approached by a young attourney whose client, a mentally disabled man from Louisiana convicted of raping a child, is appealing the death penalty at the highest level: the Supreme Court of the United States.
My Thoughts: There’s quite a few who are labeling this episode as Emmy bait, and they would not be wrong. For a show that is never afraid to quite literally throw its politics in the audience’s face, this goes even further than we’re used to. James Spader is likely to pick up his fourth Emmy for his performance here, and the show is more than likely guaranteed a nomination.
That doesn’t, however, mean I liked it.
The central storyline is a compelling one, there’s no questioning that: with William Shatner’s Denny Crane along for comic relief (Including making eyes with Ginsberg and farting during the opening of Alan’s speech), the trip to the Supreme Court feels grand, eventful, and everything you want in an Emmy episode. It feels like this is the definite example of what this show is about, lawyers who take on difficult cases and fight to the ends of the earth to win them in unique ways.
The baity part of the episode, of course, is the 10 minute monologue (essentially) from James Spader where he begins with his original line of thought before quickly deviating into a long tirade against the politicization of the Supreme Court. Now, I’ll give David E. Kelley credit: this is an ideal story to craft this argument into. It’s impossible as a viewer to not feel for this exception, a young man never officially declared mentally disabled who finds himself the victim of a barbaric law, racial profiling, and a system that did not work for him.
And Spader’s speech is brilliantly delivered, which makes it tough to say that the episode isn’t a strong one. It’s manipulative, revealing further details that cause us to not only question his conviction of the crime but also the system itself, but isn’t that the point? It’s manipulative because it’s working, because those of us leaning to the left of centre probably agree with it. It was probably written just to win Spader another Emmy, and while I’m always frustrated at who he’s pushing out of the race each time he wins I can’t say he isn’t fantastic in this episode.
The only thing that holds the episode back is that it does feel too heavy-handed (Even if we’re willing to forgive it), and that its B-Plot is rather tired. Christian Clemenson does decent work as he finds out that his girlfriend is a callgirl, but it just seems so trivial compared to the Supreme Court trip itself.
(On one quick side note: as someone who only rarely ever watches the show, the camerawork nearly killed me. All of those zooms and cuts were more distracting than I could imagine!)
Panel Potential: This episode is going to score high in the panels, although it also does have a lot of volatility. While the left wing sentiment will likely go far with most panelists, they might have a bit more trouble with the aspect of child rape. Yes, the episode goes to lengths to prove that it is different in this instance, but it’s an intense storyline. Some may give the show credit for being willing to address these issues, while others may be turned off. As a whole, though, all panelists will get caught up in Spader’s speech, and will remember the episode as a result.
Overall: The show’s prestige seems to be carrying it far these days, so we expect it performed well in the popular vote. Considering the strength of this episode, it will also perform well on the panels, and easily secure its second straight nomination.
Next Up: HBO’s Entourage, where we see if the strategy “Submit Jeremy Piven’s best episode” continues to hold for the deflating comedy series.