My Favorite 2004 Moments: DVR, Boston Legal

2004 Sucked. That's ok because (a) 2005 is already much better and (b) there were some good things that happened last year, of which I'll put to (electronic) paper over the next week so I can remember those and forget the rest.

First off, the DVR. Although I've been around cable television for as long as I remember, after college I never signed up for it (I would make my parents tape the HBO shows I watched). Part of me would like to think this is a result of some sort of "there is nothing ever good on why aren't you reading more Proust?" cultural snobbery, but I really know it was more out of behavior avoidance to prevent myself from ending up awake at 3am, 50 pounds heavier, watching Carson Daly count down the top 70 moments of 1993.

In walks the DVR, a TIVO-like device offered through our comcast service. It tapes up to 80 hours, up to two channels at time. Whatever interface issues people complained about in the past have more or less disappeared, and anybody who can navigate a computer can handle this. It makes it so that you can enjoy TV on your own time/on your own terms. Everyone who has one of these things raves about it, so I'll limit myself to a few things about specific shows that have changed since I started DVRing them.

First off, you can become a master at watching shows in fast-forward. I can watch 8 hours of Gilmore Girl in 30 minutes, stopping only to stare and blush at the scenes with Lane Kim in them. Thanks to the internet, I can use episode guides to find which episodes of Beavis and Butthead have the videos that cracked me up 10 years ago and see if they still do (they still do – "these guys are called smashing pumpkins, but they aren't smashing anything" – brilliant!).

One of the biggest impact is reserved for those shows where the parts that are good are completely seperated, like oil and water, from that parts that are awful. Which brings me to Boston Legal. I never watched The Practice until it's last year, where James Spader was brought on to try and breath new life into the failing show. Legend has it that David E. Kelley offered Spader a job playing a lawyer immediately after seeing "Secretary" for the first time; this makes sense as the vaguely sinister, sexually deviant, somewhat likeable but morally challenged character Alan Shore seems straight out of that movie. Later brought, of all people, William Shatner as the powerful, though possibly senile, named law partner Denny Crane. The show got cancelled anyway.

Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, ABC decided to take these two new characters and build a show around them. With no history of Awards and Strong Moral Dramatic Situations that The Practice evidently had going for it, Spader and Shatner are free to chew the scenery as much as they'd like (while poor Odo tries to keep them in check). Shatner (who just got a Golden Globe for this role) tells a jury that he hates old people, and that the jury can go ahead and find the drug company civilly-liable as they'll just increase the price of medication to cover the judgement. James Spader waxes reflectively on his love affair with a midget ("best two years of my life") and his "frequent flyer miles" he gets with the local escort agency with a reptilian charm you can't quite stop watching.

The rest of the show is a photocopy of a photocopy of any of those crappy David E. Kelley lawyer shows for which the fast-forward button was designed. There's some idealistic young lawyer with big boobs, there's some hard-headed "my-way-or-the-highway" lawyer that has a short skirt, and so on. Evidently not everyone watches Boston Legal via DVR, as ABC is now gutting the show a bit to keep the women making "Desperate Housewives" (the lead-in show) a huge-hit around for a second hour of TV. The last weeks have seen the firing of one of the super-model women lawyers, Candice Bergen entering as a regular playing another named partner to rival Mr. Shatner, and one episode in which a women playing Spader's secretary (whose likeness to Maggie Gyllenhaal is notable) complaining that Spader is sexually harassing her (the in-joke is quite funny). It may be enough to keep the show interesting in the long run.

The ability to fast-forward through crap is one of the big selling points of the DVR, but I find it equally useful in re-visiting scenes that need a second (or third) viewing. So far, every episode of Boston Legal has ended with Spader and Shatner at night, seated in bubble chairs on the roof, cigars and brandy in hand, contemplating the events of the show against the void of the Boston skyline. The snark and defenses of the characters are dropped for that moment, and it's usually quite touching. It's certainly interesting enough for a mutiple viewing via the rewind-button.

(that went long – sorry, later in the week is best documentary, and best liberal breakdown, among others. stay tuned)

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9 Responses to “My Favorite 2004 Moments: DVR, Boston Legal”

  1. erik Says:

    "she signed the waiver" -james spader as Alan Shore
    "The waiver"- Candice Bergman
    "Yes, I make all my female employees sign one, particularly the attractive ones."

    Although offensive, no one can deny that it was funny.

    …Later in the show.
    "Can you find me a secretary more willing to be harrassed."

  2. mike Says:

    Ha! Yes! It's awful, but Spader somehow makes it not awful. It's very clever. Have you seen Secretary? It's even funnier when you realize that the secretary looks like the one from that movie to a large degree.

    My favorite was when she was listing off the harassments: "he said he has recurring dreams where I'm just a head, that he carries around with him in a muffler, that whispers awful things to him." Bizarre. And quite funny.

  3. jenn Says:

    DENNY Crane. DENNY Crane.

    I had my eyes glued to the set during the last season of the Practice. Holy fuck was it good. I watched the season premiere of Boston Legal and then tuned out permanently. Because the BACKGROUND MUSIC IS TOO SASSY. NO NO TOO SASSY!!!!!1

  4. Ed Says:

    My first reaction is to say that this show is utter shit and I don't understand any of you people anymore.

    But when I reconsider that Mike writes this from the perspective of someone who went into the heat of battle at the behest of, and beside, William Shatner – paintball guns in hand – it suddenly makes sense that he would be predisposed to viewing the man from a warm place in his heart.

  5. Ed Says:

    Alternate title for my previous post: "Post pictures of william shatner with a paintball gun, please"

  6. Dave Says:

    I have no TV now. It's suiting me OK. Buffy and Angel have finished. Six feet under is pretty bad these days.

    When I say I have 'no TV', I mean 'no cable'. I have an enormous TV for watching DVDs on. I figure if I don't have time to watch Chinatown, I don't have time to watch the same episode of the SImpsons for the 50th time.

  7. Ed Says:

    Poor, poor Six Feet Under. Another piece of evidence to support the theory that popularity kills everything.

  8. Ambrosini Says:

    mike you played in that shatner game? I reffed it and got to meet the short old guy the day before.


  9. jonny Says: