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Saturday, March 22, 2014

DVD Review: The Practice: The Final Season

The Practice is a show that I watched regularly. It had a phenomenal cast. And even in its eighth and final season, after the departures of Dylan McDermott, LisaGay Hamilton, Kelli Williams, Lara Flynn Boyle and Marla Sokoloff, the show still had a great cast. The core members were Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, and Michael Badalucco, along with Jessica Capshaw, who had joined the cast the previous season. Added to this cast were James Spader as Alan Shore and Rhona Mitra as Tara Wilson.

James Spader is, as always, fantastic in this series. He adds a great deal of humor to this season, mainly because of his delivery (and of course because of the way the character was written). In particular, check out the episode titled “Equal Justice.” Alan Shore’s opening statement is hilarious, and the entire episode is full of James Spader’s brilliance. (Plus, that episode has an Asian guy talking about his exploding anus – yes, it sounds stupid, but it’s actually quite funny, and the episode ultimately has a lot of heart.)

In addition to an excellent cast, the show was addictive because of its continuing story lines, spread out over several episodes. It’s easy to go through these episodes quickly because of the continuing story lines, sometimes even with “To be continued” on screen at the end of an episode, leading – naturally – to just hitting “Play” on the next episode. In this final season, one of the highlights is a three-part episode in the middle of the season, featuring some excellent guest stars – Patrick Dempsey as Paul Stewart, a man accused of murder; Jill Clayburgh as the defendant’s mother; Betty White as a delightfully vindictive neighbor; Rick Hoffman as opposing counsel; and Edward Asner as the judge (he’s particularly good). I also appreciate the Red Sox references in these episodes (the password to get into the treehouse Alan Shore and the defendant built as children is “George Scott whiffs, inning over”). These episodes are among the best of any one-hour television drama ever. Many series, by their final season, are getting weak, running out of ideas. Not so with this series.

There are other recurring guest stars this season, including Sharon Stone as a lunatic lawyer named Sheila who believes she hears a female deity’s thoughts and that looking at someone for more than eight second at a time is an invasion of privacy. And Debi Mazar comes on as Gigi, the fiancĂ©e of Jimmy’s friend. And of course toward the end of the season William Shatner joins the cast as Denny Crane. (Yes, they were preparing for the series’ spinoff, Boston Legal, which would star William Shatner, James Spader, Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell, Betty White and others introduced in this season of The Practice.) William Shatner is absolutely fantastic in these episodes, somehow walking the fine line whereby the humor of his character never tips into outright silliness. Rebecca De Mornay and Gina Gershon also portray lawyers at this other firm.

The show also succeeds because of the writing. In every episode, at least one line would cause me to laugh out loud. Like in the season’s first episode, Alan Shore asks a woman, “May I call you Cindy?” The woman responds, “My name is Kate.” (Although that episode also rips off a joke about Robin Hood from the series Blackadder.) Here are a few other lines that I love: “I still love her, you know. I shot her, but I love her” (from the episode “Blessed Are They”); “Her head is all I have left of her” (from that same episode); “I suppose that when I see you alone I worry about the company you’re keeping” (Tara to Alan in “New Hoods On The Block”)

I appreciate that the main characters don’t always win (as in the really good episode “Victims’ Rights”). Plus, I like that the show actually tackles some important issues. Check out the episode titled “Police State” for example. And in “Avenging Angels” (and at least one other episode), the evils and dangers of the so-called Patriot Act are mentioned. And check out Eugene’s great speech against the death penalty in the episode “New Hoods On The Block.”

And the series wraps up nicely. By the end it really comes to be about the new directions the lives of these characters take. And Dylan McDermott returns for the final two episodes as Bobby Donnell.

The Practice: The Final Season is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2014 through Shout! Factory. There are no special features in this six-disc set.

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