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5 Shows like Boston Legal: Law & Disorder

James Thomas itcherIt’s said that people don’t like lawyers until they need one. TV shows like ‘Boston Legal’ cut through this idea with smart one-liners and clever characters creating the best examples of legal charisma on television. People looking for the thrill of a good legal drama should check out shows like ‘Ally McBeal’, ‘Night Court’, and ‘Damages’. ~ James Thomas

Welcome to Boston

The lawyers that make up the firm on ‘Boston Legal’ are well trained, ambitious, clever, and certifiably insane in some cases. This show is imbued with sarcasm around personalities with an ambiguous moral compass and a persistent need to manipulate people.

The captain on this ship of fools is one Denny Crane, played expertly by William Shatner. In all my years of watching television, I have never wanted to be a lawyer more than when I watched Denny go to work. But it is not Shatner alone making the legal profession the place where bombast is born. Watching Shatner playoff James Spader’s character, Alan Shore, is well worth sitting down for an hour.

These two men click in a sinister way and use their talent for argumentation to cut through cases that highlight all the weirdness of the world while using language that just makes life more interesting.


Shows Similar to ‘Boston Legal’…

‘Ally McBeal’ (Fox, 1997-2002)

There were shows about lawyers before ‘Ally McBeal’, but there have been few shows about the neurotic inner workings of their minds that so captured the imagination of a nation. Similar to TV shows like ‘Boston Legal’, ‘Ally McBeal’ was able to dig down into the mind of an industry and reveal the heart and mirth at its core.

Like many television shows, ‘Ally McBeal’ dealt with controversy in a way that was clever and pertinent to the times. The show dealt with trying to have it all as a woman living in the city in an authentic way. One of the best parts of the show was the creepy CGI dancing baby.

This show may seem a bit dated, but for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to watch Ally at work, it’ll definitely put the genre of legal drama in context.

Similarity Match: 90%
Like ‘Boston Legal’, ‘Ally McBeal’ dealt with the sensitive aspects of a high-end legal practice with all the tact of a bull in a china shop. However, this show was focused more on giving a woman’s perspective of the professional world than the legal profession specifically.

‘Night Court’ (NBC, 1984-1992)

One of the best characters on ‘Night Court’ has to be Bull Shannon. This massive and obviously strong man-child is the bailiff on the show and the heavy hand of justice when the crazy plaintiffs and defendants that make up the backdrop of this comedy get out of hand.  As in many series similar to ‘Boston Legal’, ‘Night Court’ works because the interactions of people working in the court seem somehow timeless.

Night Court was set in a Manhattan courthouse where Judge Herald Keystone ran what could be kindly called the circus after midnight as New York slept. Most of the comedy in the show revolves around the cases brought before judge Keystone and all the cases seemed weirdly authentic. For example, a case could involve a homeless artist who built an installation in the middle of Central Park or a runaway pickpocket who happened to be a violin virtuoso.

Episodes of ‘Night Court’ are truly endearing and I personally have a deep affection for this show as it humanizes the cogs in the legal system in a way that is honest and fair.

Similarity Match: 85%
This show is the same sort of irreverent insanity played out in the courts system as found in ‘Boston Legal’. However, most of the story is told from the perspective of the judge rather than the lawyers.

‘Damages’ (FX/ Audience Network, 2007-2012)

After watching ‘Damages’, I can safely say that if a company ever screwed my family out of our livelihood, Patty Hewes would be the first person I’d call.  But if I was facing off against her in court, I would give up, throw my wallet at her, and leave. The show ‘Damages’ revolves around a corporate lawyer who is as ruthless as a great white shark and much more vindictive.

I think what makes this show interesting is the fact that Patty, for all her murderous intent, is on the side of the little guy and the underdog more often than not. The Hewes firm specializes in going after big companies with enigmatic bosses, the type of people who ride jet skis with a supermodel strapped to their back like a backpack.

Unfortunately for these guys, Patty likes to play dirty.

Similarity Match: 80%
The show ‘Damages’ is about as funny as a funeral or a hitman’s war journal unlike ‘Boston Legal’. However, both shows have some of the most talented lawyers in the world dealing with greedy and predatory adversaries.


If You Like ‘Boston Legal’, You Will Like…

‘Boston Legal’ is built around the practice of the law by people who think being a good person means not breaking the rules too much. The next shows deal with people involved in other noble professions and those who are noble when it suits them, but are set outside of the legal system.

‘The Newsroom’ (HBO, 2012-2014)

As an American, watching the first episode of ‘The Newsroom’ was one of those moments where I thought, “This is what American news should be”. A young college student asks a veteran news anchor, “What makes America the greatest country in the world”. Things get interesting when he explains to her why it isn’t. He was abrasive, but not wrong.

This moment sets the general tone of ‘The Newsroom’ and creates the wit that makes a show covering a potentially boring subject very accessible and enjoyable in a manner similar to many TV series like ‘Boston Legal’.

There is a certain cadence and pattern to the dialogue that makes everything sound like Shakespeare if he were from New York and used Twitter, thanks to the writing of Arron Sorkin. The show is perfect for any person who enjoys the news and has a memory keyed to the seminal political events of the past decade.

The ‘Newsroom’ has the same snappy wit and dialogue found in ‘Boston Legal’. However, this show takes place in the realm of network news where on occasion deceit is frowned upon.

‘The Blacklist’ (NBC, 2013)

Red Reddington is the monster that other monsters fear. Known as the singularly most successful criminal in the world, he has made a reputation out of crushing tin pot dictators and petty thugs with dreams of being kingpins like the cheap-suited ants they are. Under the name of Raymond Reddington, he was one of the Navy’s most promising cadets before disappearing and returning to make himself known as a prolific criminal.

One day, he suddenly walks into the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and turns himself in after avoiding the authorities for over a decade. 

One of the most intriguing things about the show ‘The Blacklist’ has to be Red himself and the way he’s played by James Spader, who is arguably the only man who still looks good in a fedora.

This show has moments of the same brilliant banter found in the best scenes of ‘Boston Legal’. However, this show is a dive into the world of international crime.


Legal Matters

Shows like ‘Boston Legal’ inject some much-needed humanity into a profession that people respect but often avoid like a dental appointment or turned milk. What do you think we can learn by humanizing the people who make up the legal system?

Let me know in the comments down below.

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