Saturday, May 30, 2009
Boston Legal - Season Five (Fox, $49.98) is now on DVD, and with this release we conclude the series on DVD of one of my favorite television series of the decade. The show's fifth season was its last, having aired on ABC this past fall. Thirteen episodes are presented, and they draw to a close one of the most fun legal dramas in TV history.
With this season, we also bid goodbye to one of what I feel to be the greatest characters in the annals of television in Denny Crane (William Shatner). His "Mad Cow"-induced craziness continues in full swing for the majority of the season, while towards the end of the season his disease (which in actuality is Alzheimer's) begins to progress, and the madness takes on a sadder tone. Alongside Denny as always is his best friend Alan Shore (James Spader). Also on hand for the show's final year is of course named partner Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen), senior partner Carl Sack (John Larroquette), plus associates Jerry Espenson (Christian Clementson) and Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers).
If you're one of those viewers who dislikes when shows have cast members pair into couples towards the end, you may not have been a fan of the way the final episode progressed. All six people I listed wind up in each other's company -- Jerry and Katie gradually move closer, while Shirley and Carl prepare for their wedding...meanwhile in order to assure his proper care and safety as things deteriorates, Denny proposes marriage to who else but his best friend -- Alan. All of this occurs, naturally, at the same time as recurring character Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) negotiating the merger of the firm with a Chinese outfit. Great fun is still had, while plenty of drama still ensues. Also returning this season is Betty White as the crazed Catherine Piper, plus special guest star Valerie Bertinelli, who plays a cattle rancher who Denny is convinced is Valerie Bertinelli. You can also find interesting guest spots with the various case judges. For example, Williams Daniels -- known to many as Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World but to *me* as Dr. Mark Craig from St. Elsewhere -- appears as a judge. Meanwhile, as an attorney, Christopher Rich from Reba appears. Annie Potts appears in a later episode, "The Bad Seed." Keep an eye out for even more!
For the 5th and final season we got a packaging change -- gone are the usual slim cases, and in their place are the fragile clear plastic keep cases that I'm not particularly a fan of. The four single-sided discs are held by two plastic trays in the center. Package art for both the outer box holding the plastic case as well as the case itself feature Denny and Alan posted together in front of the Boston skyline each holding a cigar. Each disc features its own disc art. Disc 1 features the distinctive Crane, Poole, and Schmidt sign in the hallway. Disc 2 features the hands of Denny and Alan on the balcony each with a cigar with the building in the background. Disc 3 again features their hands only -- only this time with a glass of some rather fine alcohol each. Finally on disc 4 you see a wide shot of the balcony, with the two's trademark white chairs, both empty.
Getting to what is on the discs themselves: I have always loved the format of menus from 20th Century Fox, with each episode getting a sub-menu and scene selection options, but the main menus haven't always been lively. With Boston Legal Season 5 though, you get lots of animation -- a still photo of each cast member is in the foreground. Behind them is an animated silver panel, and within that panel is a clip featuring that cast member. After about 5 seconds the cast photo and video clip rotate to the next cast member. It's really a fairly spiffy layout. In front of the all of this is a stationary silver bar with the season and disc number, with a red panel holding the episode list. From there you can access the sub menus, which feature multiple language options plus the ability to access any given scene. The video quality is absolutely flawless. There is no grain, noise, artefacting, or any such debris. The video is simply spectacular. Audio sounds great as well. Vocals are nice and loud, music sounds great. There are numerous chapter stops -- with each one tying to a location from the scene selection menu. Runtimes on the hour long episodes range from 42 to 43 minutes, the standard for a 2008 drama series.
FOUR special features grace this set. Something I wish we'd had far, far more of over the series returns for the final season, deleted scenes. The scenes feature an introduction by showrunner Bill D'Elia. You can also find a featurette regarding the remarkably close friendship enjoyed by Denny and Alan over the years, as well as a feature focused on a dropped story from the episode "Juiced." It begins with an introduction regarding what was cut, and why it was cut -- at which point the video itself is shown in its entirely, essentially giving us a full half-episode extra of the series, as there's a good 20 minutes of footage. The story? Denny in fact has a daughter, who is played in the episode by Kimberly Williams-Paisley (According to Jim). The crew felt so bad about cutting her out that's how she wound up as the attorney in the Supreme Court case in the finale. "Finally" is a feature regarding the very, very interesting finale of the show.
And with that, we draw to a close of one of the most interesting and enjoyable TV series of the decade. ABC enjoyed a wave of success with several of its series debuting in 2004-05, and of those, Boston Legal is the first to depart. We got a nice volume of features for the set and between these five DVD sets and the countless reruns on broadcast and cable Boston Legal fans are sure to be able to enjoy Denny Crane and friends for years to come. Strong recommendation.
-- Reviewed by Seth Thrasher
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