Fun factoid: The creations of Hollywood wonder boy David E. Kelley can usually be summed up in seven easy words.
L.A. Law: Pretty, troubled lawyers who cared too much. Picket Fences: Weird town of caring but quirky townsfolk. Chicago Hope: Pretty, troubled doctors caring for screwy patients. The Practice: Fat lawyers yelling at skinny lawyers—care? Snoops: Hot chick detectives with hair care products. Kelley’s big-screen forays To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Lake Placid and Mystery, Alaska: All crap that no one cared about.
The key word here is “care,” though I cheated on Snoops because “vaguely lesbian erotic subtext” just wouldn’t fit—if you ever saw any of the 10 so-bad-they-were-good-but-still-quite-bad episodes that aired, you know exactly what I mean. Kelley’s Monday-night Fox block of Boston Public and Ally McBeal (season premieres Oct. 29), however, can’t be so easily wrapped in the “care” motif, because they’re different from the rest of the David E. canon.
During its 2000-’01 freshman season, Boston Public earned a decent report card from TV critics who couldn’t wait to throw around clever school references to freshmen and report cards. Me, I didn’t care to commit to a drama set in high school, a platform Fox pretty much pissed away years ago on shows like 21 Jump Street, Beverly Hills 90210 and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (yes, it was a drama … I think). Plus, Kelley already had The Practice and Ally McBeal happening in Boston, so the possibility of a round-robin crossover three-way was too great. I’m not getting sucked into a box set of this guy’s shows just to keep up—I learned that lesson from a bout with Law & Order: Special Victims Criminal Intent Crossing Guard Poison Control Parking Enforcement Mosquito Abatement Unit.
This season—shades of Van Halen’s immortal “Hot For Teacher” video—the show has added Star Trek: Voyager’s Jeri Ryan to the cast as a high-paid corporate lawyer turned low-paid teacher. Needless to say, I’m so into Boston Public now that it’s slightly uncomfortable to stand up. Like an odd portion of Kelley’s female characters, Ryan’s has a male name (Ronnie Cooke) and is completely unbelievable (übersexy rich lawyer babe leaves her practice to teach high school after a “touching” guest-speaking gig … Voyager never dabbled in anything close to that kind of science fiction).
And, no disrespect to human turtle Fyvush Finkel, she’s now the best-known actor on Boston Public, kicking up the show’s decidedly low-wattage star power. Not bad, considering her only non-Voyager TV credits include guest-shots on Matlock, The Sentinel, Dilbert (!) and Dark Skies. She immortalized Voyager’s Seven of Nine, but can Ryan play anything besides an emotionless cyborg in a skintight spacesuit that all but defined the “camel toe method,” a dramatic technique you’ll never hear discussed on Inside the Actor’s Studio? Hundreds of Jeri Lynn Ryan Zimmerman fansite webmasters and myself will be watching rapt.
I might as well leave alone the remote and make another attempt at rekindling a relationship with Kelley’s Ally McBeal, right? I mean, I watched the first couple of seasons (the universally-accepted apex arc of a David E. series; it’s usually downhill from there) before realizing, “Hey, I’m a guy—shouldn’t I be watching Monday Night Football or WWF Raw?” Except for the occasional Robert Downey Jr. rubbernecking, the past two years of Ally are as big a mystery to me as I’m sure the last two years are to Downey, period.
Thanks to the magic of cable, however, I’ve been catching up with Ally McBeal through daily reruns on FX—too bad the newer characters I’ve discovered are bailing on the show this year. Ally (Calista Flockhart), Fish (Greg Germann), Elaine (Jane Krakowski) and Nelle (Portia de Rossi) remain, but the Biscuit (Peter MacNicol) and Ling (Lucy Liu) will be phased out, and Larry (indisposed Downey Jr.), Renee (insane Lisa Nicole Carson) and the rest are fork-bound.
Bar chanteuse Vonda Shepard—the least annoying of the McBeal gang; must be the no-speaking, non-lawyer thing—isn’t splitting her gig, fortunately, but she may have to share the mic with future guest rock star Jon Bon Jovi, who’ll show up later in the season as a hunky Jon Bon Jovi-type. Naturally, he and hunky new cast member James Marsden (X-Men) will compete for Ally’s love—in Kelley World, hunky men can’t resist a jittery neurotic who’s built like a swizzle stick with lips.
Still, after the remedial homework via reruns, it’s obvious I haven’t missed anything. Despite the inexplicable Emmys and attempts to distract with revolving-door casts, the formula of Ally McBeal is still disappointingly simple: Men are scum; women are uncaring shrews.
Hey, it can be boiled down to seven words!