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Kelley's Mad As Hell

Boston Legal is back.

I forgot how much I had missed the self-referential closing arguments, when David Kelley gets to take aim at whatever he wants to. Put in the mouth of an attorney pleading for a client, the extended secular sermons work, though sometimes just barely, and the tirades are always entertaining, though perhaps not so much for TV insiders when the disorder of their own houses is being exposed.

In its first new episode since the writers strike, the show took aim at TV in general, but specifically at reality television, which helped networks and producers fill up time slots, including Boston Legal’s, during the "recent unpleasantness" as some of my southern relatives once regularly described the bloody and bruising Civil War.

One of the cases, being argued by veteran high-horse jockey Alan Shore, involved a reality show, Dr. Ray, in which a marriage proposal is rebuffed onscreen and the jilted would-be lover later stabs the woman to death. The producer is on trial and winds up losing the case and facing a seven-figure judgment.

While that scenario smacked more of the real-life troubles of former daytime talkers, the storyline provided  a platform from which to smack around TV in general, not unfamiliar territory for Kelly, who reportedly wrote this episode.

The Shore character, who is often Kelley’s choice for media smackdowns, talked of the days when broadcasters had to define and hew to a public interest standard. Not any more, he suggested, as they chased the almightly dollar at the expense of taste and civility and even the health of the nation. 

He took shots at Fox News, at local and cable news in general, bemoaning anchors with white teeth but no tough stories to sink them into. He talked of reality shows that pander to the lowest common denominator by parading people’s problems in front of the masses for the almightly rating point, pointing out that the Dr. Ray episode had aired three times, including once after the murder and going so far as to suggest the killing was just good business for TV.

It was arguably the show’s longest sustained attack on TV as a whole. It even ended with an invocation of that iconic TV rabble-rouser,  Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the newsman in the movie Networkwho used the medium to get  viewers to declare to the world that they were as mad as hell and they were not going to take this–poverty, crime, indifference, insulation–anymore.

That was Shore’s closing request as well, for the public to say they were sick and tired of the current state of TV and weren’t going to take it anymore.

For Kelley’s sake, here’s hoping that call does not extend to next Tuesday’s episode of the show. Boston Legal continues to be the most politically conscious scripted program on television, and the most entertaining electronic soap box around.