Bobby Donnell is the head of a struggling Boston law firm that seems to constantly struggle with ethical themes while defending murderers, rapists, etc. Jimmy, Eugene, Ellenor and Lindsay are junior attorneys with the firm, the streetwise receptionist, and Helen the firm's frequent adversary with the D.A.'s office in this smart and clever weekly series. Written by
Marty McKee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
For the third season, Lara Flynn Boyle, Camryn Manheim and Holland Taylor received Emmy nominations as Supporting Actresses. Flynn Boyle and Manheim did the whole season but one episode, always credited as regular cast members. Taylor, who eventually won, did six episodes as a Special Guest Star. See more »
"The Practice" started humbly on Saturday nights and creator/super-producer David E. Kelley built it into one of the most unique legal dramas on TV. Courtroom dramas where, and still are in many ways, a popular thing, but "The Practice" deviated from the norm with a more intriguing concept. It is the story of, not just lawyers, but defense attorneys who struggle to do their job for the greater integrity of the legal system even if it means setting a guilty murderer Scott free. It puts some intriguing moral questions in the lap of the audience and lets us sort them out.
As the show progresses, these moral dilemmas take their toll on the characters. Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) and Eugene (Steve Harris) become beaten down, intentionally getting the life literally pounded out of their once lively personalities. Jimmy (Michael Baddallucco) goes from grunt to whiner and Eleanor Front (Camryn Manheim) gets on her angry soap box and lectures everybody, on screen and in the audience, more and more. Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) and DA Walsh (a good Bill Smitrovich) also appear on the edge of collapse by loosing to the firm. Lindsey (Kelli Williams) is increasingly driven mad, stalked by one client after another. Her mid-series marriage to Bobby brings about one of the most unhappy and chemistry-less unions in recent TV memory. Then there is Rebecca Washington (Lisa Gay Hamilton) whom I never cared for and Lucy Hatcher (Marla Sokoloff) whose perky act becomes refreshing the duller the main characters get.
No, "The Practice" may not be remembered for its protagonists, but there is a good chance it will be remembered for the villains that walk through the door as clients. Henry Winkler as a bug fetish dentist, John Larroquette Emmy-winning terrific as egomaniacal, homosexual serial killer Joey Heric, Michael Monks as the classically meek George Vogelman and Michael Emmerson as the series' creepiest character, William Hinks. The sheer nastiness of the defendants are where this show shines.
The longer it went the more tired of itself the show got. A season 7 client who thought he was Superman found a new low. I loved it sometimes and hated it others, but I kept watching. It kept dragging me along, through its improbability, recycled twists, deflating characters and Kelley's trademark political posturing. But it was a fun antidote to the dryer "Law & Orders" of the world. With Kelley's mountain of TV legal experience behind him and his trademark sensationalized execution. Kelley is also not above lengthy outbursts of psychotic violence to shock the audience. It is pot-boiler, melodramatic fun.
It is not hard-and-fast with the law, more of a laymen's "Law & Order", but some wild stories and ending twists give it an edge other shows don't have. "Practice" specializes in the shocking twist. There is an unforgettable, brilliantly set-up, dozy of a shocker at the end of the 3th season. There is a shocking, unsettling, death of a major character at the end of the 5th season. Both are series high seasons. I may not see a nun the same way again.
I swore I would never watch again after Kelley through a fit and a massive "budget cutting" round of firings gutted all but 3 members of the regular staff, including stout series star McDermott. In the 8th and final season Kelley seems to have lost interest entirely in this show and these characters. James Spader joins the cast to pump some life into it and pump he does. The show becomes must-see TV again following Alan Shore's (Spader) over-the-top antics and, constantly threatened with termination, wonder how far he will go next. Kelley refocuses and Alan Shore becomes his new love and Spader is larger than life.
The final few episodes of the series, including a drab finale, serve merely to set up Kelley's Alan Shore spin-off series, tentatively titled "The Practice: Fleet Street". If what we've seen already is any indication the new show is a logical transition from a dying one and something worth waiting for.
* * * / 4
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