'BOSTON LEGAL: SEASON 1'
In hindsight, much of this first season seems like an experiment, building to the show that ABC has renewed for its third year. This spinoff from David E. Kelley's "The Practice" was designed as a vehicle for James Spader's Alan Shore, a lawyer whose cross-the-line tactics give voice to Kelley's soap-box issues. That, and Shore's loyal relationship with mentor Denny Crane (William Shatner, suffering from onset senility -- "mad-cow disease," he calls it) are what made the series watchable from the start. But at the start, there are no diversions to Candice Bergen, who first appears at mid-season as a founding senior partner of the oddball law firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt. Instead, early on, we get lawyers who seem to be there for face value only -- Monica Potter, Rhona Mitra and Lake Bell, all now gone -- and a then-underused Mark Valley. Although the show was a critical and ratings hit, the real value of this first-season DVD is to see how far "Boston Legal" has come by paring down to what it is at its best: a showcase for pros Spader, Shatner and Bergen.
The pilot, titled "Head Cases," does set the stage for the kind of courtroom theatrics "Boston Legal" thrives on: Shore takes the case of an African-American mother and daughter who want to sue a touring company that won't hire the daughter to play the title role in "Annie" because she is black.
Along with 17 episodes on five discs, extras include deleted scenes from the pilot and two featurettes: "Court Is Now in Session: How Boston Legal Came to Be," in which producers and cast members give some insights into trying to balance quirky humor and serious subjects, and "An Unlikely Pair: Alan Shore and Denny Crane," an entertaining look at the Spader-Shatner chemistry.