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Ally McBeal and Boston Public: Lusty Lawyers, Stressed-Out Teachers



Sat, Dec 16, 2000 12:39 PM
Ally McBeal and Boston Public: Lusty Lawyers, Stressed-Out Teachers

On Sundays last season on ABC, producer David E. Kelley had two series back-to-back: the new Snoops, followed by the award-winning The Practice. Thankfully, the silly Snoops was canceled quickly. This season Kelley has another twin bill, this time on Fox: his new drama, Boston Public, followed by the zany Ally McBeal. Both premiered Monday, Oct. 23.

This is a mixed blessing. The good news is that this year, Ally (Calista Flockhart) and friends are up to their old self-involved tricks. The better news is that Robert Downey Jr. has been added to the cast, at least for the next few weeks. Downey, who plays a man Ally mistakenly thinks is subbing for her shrink, is a fabulous addition. Not only does he look really good (prison must have agreed with him), he’s a brilliant actor. We can only hope he’ll hang around.

The good news for Boston Public is that it’s way better than Snoops. Kelley is served well by Chi McBride (The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer) as Principal Steven Harper, who presides over the chaos at a public high school. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to be in charge: He’s tough but fair. OK, he does push a student into a locker, but that’s because he cares.

But if we were to give Boston Public a grade, it would an incomplete. The show has promise, but it needs work. On one hand, it’s like summer school: You feel like you’ve covered these subjects before. On the other hand, when Kelley tries to do something provocative, like having a teacher (Nicky Katt) shoot off a gun in class, it seems like he’s trying too hard to shock us in these post-Columbine days.

While Ally McBeal is mostly engaging fantasy (no law firm could operate the way they do), Boston Public is stunning reality (some schools are really this screwed up). But, except for Harper, the characters are not especially memorable.

If the overemployed Kelley could take some time from his many other shows to nurture Boston Public, he might just have two hits on his hands.