No one has made us love lawyers as much as David E. Kelley. In his world, law firms are populated by people who treasure friendships and relationships above all. A David E. Kelley show may not always be feel-good (remember The Practice). But now that Harry’s Law has ended its two-season run, it is clear that whenever we hear his name in the future we’ll think of lawyers dancing. Or being quirky. Or grumpy but still lovable.
There were early signs, in L.A. Law (1986-1994), which Kelley co-created, and Picket Fences (1992-1996). But it wasn’t until Ally McBeal (1997-2002) that Kelley found a chance to really delve into friendship as a theme. Of course, none of his shows have ever started with that. All of them have begun by establishing a lead character whose quirks, flaws and strengths were properly introduced. In Ally McBeal it was Ally (Calista Flockhart), in Boston Legal (2004-2008) it was Alan Shore (James Spader) and in Harry’s Law (2011-2012) it was Harry Korn (Kathy Bates). Ally was young, insecure and had an overly active imagination; Alan was cocky, sexually aggressive and proudly liberal; and Harry was middle-aged, tired, but a damned fine lawyer with her heart in the right place. Sooner or later though, Kelley had to move on in various ways and his genuine interest in relationships always led him onto the fabric of friendship. In Ally McBeal it was clear that he had a weak spot for John Cage and Richard Fish (Peter MacNicol, Greg Germann), two very odd men who were an obvious fit.
In Boston Legal, Kelley went all-out and created a show that revolved almost entirely around the friendship between Alan Shore and Denny Crane (William Shatner). It started already in The Practice, but when Kelley was given the chance to move Shore and Crane to their own series he certainly took it. Every episode ended with the friends having one last talk on the balcony outside Denny’s office. Eventually, the show even approached the daring question of whether or not their relationship was homosexual, even though they dated women and did not have sex with each other. After all, the series finale had them walking down the aisle. What is love?
The behind-the-scenes clip from above shows what Harry’s Law looked like in the first season. All focus was on Harry and her closest associates. And then came season two. Christopher McDonald had already been introduced as an obnoxious enemy, a veteran ambulance chaser called Thomas Jefferson. But now he had been elevated to a regular and all of a sudden Harry and her associates worked alongside him, pretending for at least a few episodes that it was a problem, until Kelley was comfortable enough to write scripts where Harry and Thomas looked like the best of friends, seasoned, battle-scarred courtroom veterans.
I have no idea what David E. Kelley will do next. But I’m pretty sure he’ll continue exploring the nature of friendships. Let’s just hope his next project fares better than Harry’s Law.