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A for effort?
Does David Kelley '79 make the grade for his
new television show on FOX?
A review of the show,
by Wes Tooke '98
David E. Kelley '79 may
be the hardest working man in television. As the creator and writer
of two lawyer shows - the whimsical Ally McBeal and the respected
drama The Practice - Kelley has become one of the heavyweights
of the entertainment industry. Last season, however, as both shows
declined in quality, some critics claimed that Kelley had overextended
himself (Kelley has also made several films in the last few years,
including Lake Placid and Mystery, Alaska).
But instead of reining
in his workload, Kelley has instead created another series for FOX,
this one set in a high school in the Boston public school system.
In tone, Boston Public lies somewhere between his two previous
shows: dramatic but not outlandish, funny but not slapstick. Many
of the characters have previously appeared in Kelley's dramas, and
Anthony Heald, who played a Californian judge on The Practice,
is especially compelling as a hard-nosed teacher.
Public suffers from the same flaws that marred last season's
episodes of The Practice and Ally McBeal. At his best,
Kelley writes characters who are eccentric yet grounded in reality,
and his plots feature controversial issues presented in a new and
intriguing way. Boston Public is not Kelley at his best.
The characters are cartoonish, but surprisingly uninteresting, and
we've seen all these story lines a thousand times before - the athlete
who can't play because of his grades, the teacher who slept with
a student, the principal who assaults a bully.
Kelley writes too well
for the show to be truly awful - the dialogue is consistently entertaining
- but Boston Public is shallow entertainment. And Kelley
is capable of far better. Boston Public confuses sentimentality
with sentiment, and we're forced to sit through several tendentious
speeches an episode. Watching the show, it's hard to ignore the
fact that Kelley needs an editor.
Kelley's strength as
a writer is his ability to take serious issues and present them
in a new and interesting way - and that ability sets him apart from
99.9 percent of the writers working in Hollywood. I don't know enough
about Kelley's work habits to make this point with any authority,
but the decline in the quality of his shows seems to indicate that
he is overworked. Although I enjoy seeing a Princeton guy eating
up three hours of network air, I know that I would prefer one great
Kelley drama to three mediocre ones. Because there are enough mediocre
shows on television already.
Wes Tooke is a regular
contributor to PAW Online. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org