Male Friendship in Boston Legal

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The enduring friendship of Denny Crane (played to tragic-comic perfection by William Shatner) and Alan Shore (a role taken on by James Spader, he of the most incredible facial expressions) is one aspect of Boston Legal that really stood out for me from the five season run of the show. It’s also been five years, give or take, since I’ve watched the show, and the fact that the saga of Alan and Denny is the first thing that came to mind when recalling the era of Boston Legal is testament to their enduring legacy.  

Alan: If I should ever like to drive your car…

Denny: I toss you my keys.

Alan: If I should ever need any money…

Denny: My check is blank.

Alan: Or need to pick your brain…

Denny: My mind is blank.

I detest the term ‘bromance’. We’ve got such a thing in society about showing close male friendship because of some kind of queer fear, so ‘bromance’ has become the gratuitous catchphrase of choice for describing the ‘haha no-homo’ antics of male friends, which is so deliberately played up for comedic affect. We gotta laugh it up. Serious introspection of male friendships is a rarer occurrence, at least in mainstream media.

And while many of the laughs in Boston Legal came from the moments between Denny and Alan, their relationship was a different kettle of fish, so to speak. Both were undeniably straight, with a revolving door of women between the two of them, but Denny and Alan were each other’s constant.

Denny Crane: Ahhh. I wish you and I were getting married. That’s you and I. Both of us. To others. I’m not gay.

Alan: I heard you the first Freudian slip.

And indeed, while the combination of Denny and Alan led to incredibly funny moments – think matching flamingo outfits, couple’s spa days, and outstanding banter, the stuff dream bromances are made of, they manage to transcend the standard prototype of dude interaction.

The classic balcony scene (and not quite the Romeo and Juliet kind, which nevertheless seems a tad fitting here) which ends off almost every episode – and there were nearly a hundred in total – was the setting for many of the serious, introspective moments that epitomized their relationship. While smoking cigars and imbibing some kind of alcoholic beverage, the conservation ranged from the inane to the profound. No topic is off-limits in this nightly ritual, and this is where grievances are aired, confessions shared and feelings bared. (Had to go with the rhyme scheme there.) It’s the comfort of the familiar, where one can be vulnerable, or philosophize on the meaning of life, or simply shoot the breeze. And it’s what true, enduring friendships are made of.

Denny: Are we setting a bad example? I shoot people.

Alan: I bribe them.

Denny: We drink.

Alan: We smoke.

Denny: I’m unfaithful.

Alan: Not to me.

Denny: Never to you.

Alan: We’re not setting examples. We’re just being true to who we are.

Denny: Who are we?

Alan: Denny Crane.

Denny: Alan Shore.

Alan: Leaders of men.

Denny: With bull’s eyes on our asses.

While they came from two very different sides of the political spectrum – Denny as the stereotype of an offensive Republican, and Alan as the bastion of all things liberal – the friendship isn’t reduced to some kind of red-blue ‘see we can be friends’ shtick. Indeed, these are very much surface differences that ultimately don’t cause as many clashes as one might assume.

Perhaps one of the most poignant elements of their closeness is Alan’s growing involvement in Denny’s health, specifically his declining mental faculties due to what he refers to as ‘the mad cow’ – otherwise known as Alzheimer’s. Alan is immensely aware of Denny’s condition, and provides his support when the going gets tough, accompanying his companion to doctor’s appointments, monitoring its progression and researching trial treatments.

Denny: Thank you, Alan, for coming with me.

Alan: I think friends should always encourage friends to get their heads examined.

The two eventually waltz off into the proverbial sunset when they get married in the series finale. And yes, while it’s a humorous plot device, it’s also overshadowed with the seriousness of why they make this decision – Alan will be there to make important decisions for Denny as his memory declines and ensure that he’s cared for. At the end of it all, no woman that has managed to capture either of their loyalty or devotion till death do us part.

And honestly, after five seasons of their squabbles and cigar sessions, it would be rather disingenuous for them to end up with anyone but the other. After all, the Denny and Alan show is a partnership built on mutual trust and affection. Many marriages have been made and lost on much less.

Boston Legal remains one of my favorite shows for so many reasons: the glorious hilarity and wit was counterbalanced with the inclusion of pertinent social issues, while the liberal political slant made my bleeding heart sing with glee (Alan’s closing arguments were a thing to behold. In fairness, my joyful fist-pumping was probably an embarrassing sight of another kind entirely.) The legal wrangling was incredibly interesting, the characters were entirely memorable, and the small heart-warming moments enough to thaw the hearts of the most cynical of beings (me). And yes, the Denny-Alan friendship, the centre around which the show revolved, the heart of the whole enterprise, was a poignant gem played to perfection by the actors.

Alan: To next season, my friend.

Denny: Same night?

Alan: God, I hope.

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.
  • jj1960

    Well said! I adored Boston Legal for all of the reasons you stated. There will never be another Alan and Denny; Spader and Shatner were perfection, individually and especially as a team.