Bosom Buddies, Redefined

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006

It's the best love story on television.

Not Homer and Marge. Not that cute married couple on "Medium." Not the HBO polygamists.

It's Denny Crane and Alan Shore in the ABC Tuesday night hit "Boston Legal."

Each episode of the two-year-old dramedy, a spinoff of ABC's "The Practice," ends with lawyers Crane (played by William Shatner) and Shore (James Spader) relaxing on the high-rise balcony of their Boston firm of Crane Poole & Schmidt, recounting their day and their lives thus far.

Sometimes, the two puff cigars. Sometimes, they enjoy a Scotch. Always, they express their love to one another in ways circumspect, confounding, tough, tender and touching. One exchange, in which the characters confessed their many faults to each other, created a signature moment for the pair:

Denny: I'm unfaithful.

Alan: Never to me.

Really, that's all a guy can ask.

Denny Crane and Alan Shore are perhaps the best example of postmodern, heterosexual man-love -- call it a male-la tionship -- currently available in the mass media. It has been a long time coming. We modern men have had to tame our Eternal Caveman, shake off centuries of reflexive homophobia, escape the mythopoetic feely-thicket of Iron Johnliness in order to finally -- finally -- get to this place.

In the relationship between Denny and Alan we find refuge, permission and proxy. Here and now -- "Boston Legal" tells us -- modern hetero-man can freely love fellow hetero-man without worrying about whether it makes us gay, without spending time thinking and talking about our feelings (gaack!) and without expressing affection solely through physical competition, like pickup basketball.

The show, by producer David E. Kelley ("The Practice," "Ally McBeal," "Boston Public"), was created as an ensemble cast. But Shatner and Spader quickly took it over simply by force of personality. Their first balcony scene, for instance, was just one more shot in the show's early episodes, drawn up as counterpoint to the many scenes in the courtroom and the office.

But viewer reaction to the loving repartee between Shatner and Spader was so positive that Kelley and the show's writers quickly made a balcony scene the capstone of each episode. The show, which enters its third season Tuesday, has produced solid ratings. Last season, "Boston Legal" averaged about 10 million viewers per episode, finishing second in the 10 p.m. Tuesday time slot to NBC's "Law & Order: SVU."

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