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'Legal' brings humor and exaggeration to the court

At one point during the season premiere of "Boston Legal" (10 tonight, Channel 7), an exasperated attorney Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) is shocked by a musical decision made by a judge.

"You're not serious," replies Schmidt.

She is speaking for the "Legal" audience. David E. Kelley's legal series is as absurd as it gets. That is a large part of the charm of Alan Shore and Denny Crane, the attorneys played by Emmy winners James Spader and William Shatner, who reflect on each episode's proceedings over a good cigar at the end of each episode.

Over the first two episodes, Kelley gives his absurd take on the scary influence of religion on American politics, censorship in war time, the difficulties of sexual harassment and divorce cases and the danger that murder defendants place themselves in by behaving as cold as a New England winter.

Those who expect their legal series to take things seriously like "Law & Order: SVU" (which is on NBC at the same time) might loudly shout objection. Others will just sit back and enjoy the repartee between the characters, the fast-moving story lines, the old TV musical themes that pop up and the humor in hearing senior citizen Betty White say a risque word.

The first two episodes revolve around Heather Locklear as a so-called Black Widow accused of murdering her 70-year-old husband by spiking his Viagra with a drug that made his wine lethal.

"She's wicked, I love it," says Crane, who raises his dirty old man act to a new level. That plot line that has been documented in ABC's far-too-revealing promos. As always, Locklear spices up the proceedings, entangling Shore in her character's web.

Kelley also spices up his script with a wicked take-off on Nancy Grace, which would be even more absurd if the CNN and Court TV star didn't already take absurdity to a new level.

The opener also focuses on the introduction of three new characters, while greasing the departure of Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra), the sexy female lawyer dating Shore.

Julie Bowen, who showed up in a hospital bed on the premiere of "Lost" as Jack's (Matthew Fox) future wife, comes aboard "Legal" as Denise Bauer, a hard-driving senior associate who has a fool for a client. Herself.

Denise is married to a 34-year-old golf pro, who is looking to have his failing career supported by a hefty divorce settlement negotiated by a man who has the seemingly conflicting missions of being a divorce lawyer and minister.

The distracted Denise eventually enlists two younger lawyers, played by newcomers Justin Mentell and Ryan Michelle Bathe, to work on her case.

In a Los Angeles interview this summer, Kelley said the new characters were added to balance the office politics of the law firm, which didn't have enough lower-level attorneys. Gone or soon gone are Lake Bell (now on NBC's "Surface"), Mitra (now on "Nip/Tuck," which also plays opposite "Legal") and Monica Potter.

Bowen is always a welcome sight and Mitra's story line with an old flame (Rupert Everett) helps Shore get our sympathies. And, as is the case with jurors in the Black Widow case, TV viewers like to see their characters occasionally behave like human beings, too.

After the cigar smoke clears next week, "Boston Legal" will have made a strong case in its new time period.

Boston Legal

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

* * *

Erika Brason has moved from WIVB-TV to WGRZ-TV to become the host of a new 90-minute version of "Daybreak" that premieres at 9 a.m. Saturday. Andy Parker, Channel 2's weekend meteorologist, will join her on the program.

"Across the country the biggest growth area for news is early in the morning," said Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toeller. "We saw a need here for something local after 8 a.m. Saturday."

The move will result in the Saturday version of "Today" moving up an hour to 7 a.m.

Brason, who was the anchor of Channel 4's "Weekend Wakeup," will also be a reporter and fill-in anchor. Chris Musial, Channel 4's general manager, said her non-compete clause had expired, and she was free to move to WGRZ.

Barbara Pinson filled in for Brason Saturday and appears to be a strong candidate to permanently replace her.


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