The Practice in Practice

The practice

I used to watch The Practice faithfully when it first came on the air back in 1997. It was a David E. Kelley show and it highlighted the conflicts between the strict demands of legal ethics vs. morality and justice. For the first few seasons I thought it was a pretty good show, even though I was often infuriated by some of its characters.

Especially the vindictive prosecutor Helen Gamble.

But by season 6 I had had enough. Kelley was a big fan of a classic thriller where in the last few moments we discover that the person whom we had considered innocent to have been guilty the whole time, so Kelley used this ploy over and over again. His plots were littered with guilty parties going free and innocent people going to prison with his protagonists all the while claiming they couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it because of legal ethics.

The lesson that Kelley didn’t take away from that classic thriller was that in those final moments when the real killer was revealed, plot twist follows plot twist in rapid succession, and in the end the viewer is left with the feeling that while the legal system may not have worked as designed, justice was still served.

But in Kelley’s Practice universe, all those injustices week after week piled up.

And I had finally had enough. Somewhere during season 6 I stopped watching.

Apparently, a lot of other viewers did as well, as the ratings apparently sagged; people don’t want to see the legal system get it so wrong week after week. Barry Levinson tried something like that with The Jury in 2004. It followed a case every week through the jury’s verdict and then in a postscript it showed what had really happened. Alas, what had really happened had nothing to do with the jury’s verdict. Viewers don’t like smartasses like Barry Levinson. Although the scripts were good, I gave up on that show after three weeks; it didn’t last much longer.

Back to The Practice. For the 8th and final season the entire series was retooled with most of the cast dropped and new cheaper actors brought in. Kelley had seemingly learned his lesson, as I read on a blog post at the time that the lawyers on the show were now using tricks to serve the interests of morality and justice—legal ethics be damned.

But once I had dropped a show, I generally didn’t go back. But I did watch the spinoff, Boston Legal and I think I knew at the time that it was essentially a continuation of the 8th season of The Practice where the new character of Alan North had been introduced.

Recently, however, I decided to watch the entire series from the start. Just a word of warning if you haven’t seen it, I’ll have a few SPOILERS along the way.

Recalling some of the early season plot lines as I did, it was a bit easier to take, although I still can’t stand Helen Gamble. Though as prosecutors on that show go, she’s probably the best. 

There’s that slimy little weasel Richard Bay (played by Jason Kravits) who coaches witnesses and tells them exactly what to say and just has utter contempt for the law that he’s supposed to uphold. I didn’t shed any tears when they finally killed him off.

But as I said, knowing some of the plot lines, I was able to see how Kelley laid the groundwork in earlier episodes for the payoff in later ones. He sometimes build multi-season arcs around single characters.

And then there was Joey Heric.

During the original run of the series, I could never really enjoy the shows that featured smartass gay serial killer Joey Heric, played to smarmy perfection by John Larroquette. The problem was that I couldn’t stand John Laroquette. Back in the 80s when Night Court was on, I would sometimes see just a few minutes of that show while waiting to watch whatever show came on next, and I’d see Laroquette as the slimey, sexist DA or whatever he was, and somewhere in the back of my mind I formed the picture of Laroquette as that character. And ever since then, whenever I saw Laroquette in anything, I just could not enjoy his performance.

Silly me.

Anyway, in 2012 I saw the revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man on Broadway and Laroquette had a major role and well, I realized that, hey, he’s a mighty fine actor. And I felt pretty foolish for dismissing him for all those years.

So the second time through, I was able to thoroughly able to enjoy Laroquette’s recurring role as the genius gay serial killer Joey Heric.

But the big revelation for me was what I missed. Religion was always a part of the show as Bobby Donnell, the head of the firm, was Catholic, as was Jimmy Berluti. Their knee jerk Catholic reactions, which they mistook for morality, got tiresome real fast.

But when the Catholic priest child rape scandal bubbles up (the series reflecting what was happening in the real world, you know, where the Catholic hierarchy showed absolutely no compassion for the victims, tried to cover up the crimes, and moved the perpetrators (i.e, priests) to new locations, where they could rape again), Bobby actually leaves the Catholic Church, something I wish people in the real world would do. Jimmy, of course, falls back on his knee jerk brainless defense of the Catholics.

Then the Lindsay Dole character continues to evolve, and I wonder if David E. Kelley had planned this from the start. She began the series as the most innocent of the characters, but she left it as a monster.

She killed a former client in cold blood, and when her colleagues manage to free her on a technicality, she sets up her own practice and goes off had crazy. When one of her clients kills a 14 year old girl, she refuses to reveal the location of the body so the parents can bury their child, claiming attorney client privilege, even though a judge has released her, and even though she knows that her client will likely kill again. She knows he’s guilty of killing another woman and lets another man take the rap for it. Again, attorney client privilege, even though she could claim exemption because she knows he will kill again.

Only when she thinks he might kill her does she break privilege.

Oh, and she’s developed into a full fledged bigot as well.

She’s a monster. 

And, Bobby, when you and Lindsay get divorced, do not let her have custody of Bobby Jr. Just saying.

Into all this comes Alan Shore in the 8th season, as Bobby, Lindsay, and several other characters are dumped. All the previous seasons were filmed with a dark gritty look, but now things have lightened up. And Alan Shore has burst fully formed, rather like Athena, presumably out of Kelley’s head. If you know him from Boston Legal, you will recognize him.

I’ve only gotten through the first few episodes of the 8th season so far, but it’s like the 0th season of Boston Legal.

James spader as alan shore

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