Denny Crane: A Feminist/Queer Studies Love Letter to Boston Legal

Okay, confession time. My first crush was Captain Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series.

What am I looking at? Oh, just my ego's shadow.

Now here’s the thing about Captain Kirk. He’s a jerk. He’s xenophobic, expansionist, and a professional chauvinist. And he never really apologizes for it. As a feminist, I should hate him. But he also does stuff like this:

And now Shatner takes pictures like this:

Sandals with socks. FTW!

Despite all (or maybe because) of Kirk’s issues, he’s a really interesting examination of masculinity. As I’ve mentioned before, his and Spock’s emotional closeness and homosocial behavior fueled the fire for some of the first slash fiction, allowing for some of the first publicized queer readings of pop culture phenomena. Obviously I didn’t get to watch the original Star Trek in its original context, but when you watch it in the 90s and 2000s, there’s an element of self-parody to Kirk, “The Trouble with Tribbles” being the perfect example. Though he lives in the future, according to James T. Mason, Kirk “represents Kennedy’s “New Frontier” and the Camelot Legend of the Sixties.” JFK was notorious as an attractive playboy and Kirk tends to solve his problems by intimidating the men and using his pheromones to seduce the (often alien) women, which tends to get him into trouble in the end.

(Is it just me or did Spock say that line about male fidelity a little bit too pointedly? Help! The slash fans have entered my brain! 😉 )

Kirk also tended to have crises of masculinity every so often. (And by every so often I mean every freaking time some alien that’s way more powerful than him takes over the ship, which was pretty much every three to five episodes.) Kirk would grab and hold onto Spock a little bit, generally be a jerk, save the day, and then feel better. What was reassuring about this process was that as self-assured as Kirk appeared to be, we all knew he was faking it in the end.

All this said, it makes complete and total sense that James T. Kirk would become this man when he got older:

That was Mr. Denny Crane (Esq.), a name partner at the law offices of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt, the fictional law firm that is the focus of David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal. Denny is a gun-toting member of the NRA and the GOP, a famous lawyer, still a playboy, and a self-proclaimed “flamingo.”

When I say “flamingo” I am, of course, referring to this picture

But I also refer to the this:

Oh hey, look! Homoeroticism on TV between two awesome, masculine men (one, a Republican!) In fact, Alan (James Spader) and Denny (Shatner) get married on the series finale of Boston Legal so that Alan can care for Denny as his Alzheimer’s condition deteriorates, a plot point that seemed to garner praise from the gay community. (After Elton has details.) The show also addresses issues like the right to die, gun possession, the global gag rule, homeland security, and the gender expectations we place on women and men. The season two episode “Smile” is a great example. A young girl who can’t smile is barred from admission into an elite private school, a rape victim sues a hospital for refusing to give her the morning after pill, and Brad Chase, the firm’s ex-Marine “Ken Doll” of a lawyer struggles to argue that a cat shouldn’t be taken off life support.

Boston Legal is militantly political, and I would never argue that it’s fair and balanced (in either the literal or Fox News sense), but characters like James Spader’s hyper liberal Alan Shore and Shatner’s reactionary Denny Crane keep both sides of the debate sympathetic at the very least. It also helped that James Spader is a brilliant and nuanced actor who filled his emotionally dependent relationship with Shatner’s Alzheimer’s patient Denny Crane with a sadness and protectiveness that is utterly heartbreaking.

Boston Legal is actually a spin-off of The Practice, also set in Boston. The main difference is that BL leans more towards irreverent humor and relationship development and The Practice tended to focus on the case of the week and character crisis. Now you can watch full episodes on TV Land. If you’ve resolved to do something fun and feminist/queer this weekend, watching a few episodes of Boston Legal with a “I’m not a feminist, but…” friend is the perfect solution. You want to go to there.

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4 thoughts on “Denny Crane: A Feminist/Queer Studies Love Letter to Boston Legal

  1. Loved your take on James T. Kirk and your comments regarding Boston Legal. “Legal” is probably my favorite show ever and beyond a doubt the relationship between Alan and Denny is definitely my favorite on TV or film…what a great couple. I certainly will be tuning in to TVLand to see one of the most outrageous and unique shows ever on the tube. Your comment regarding James T. Spader’s acting ability is so very true, he is a brilliant and nuanced actor; I cannot see any other person pulling off this role so magnificently, and Shatner as Crane….amazing.

  2. Maybe the fun of Kirk is that he is subversive? It’s like watching Supernatural when you’re a good writer, or reading bodice-rippers when you’re a feminist–sometimes it’s fun to tweak yourself.

    But, as the girl who had Picard on her wall (next to Luke and Leia) I have to disagree with your choice of Starfleet captain. Tribbles were cute though…

    • I like Supernatural’s writing, especially its examination of masculinity. It’s the directing I take issue with (not very interesting cinematography, letting Jared Padalecki make the same boring choices all the time.)

      You’re never going to convince me that a bedroom wall is complete with the Spock and Kirk (original and reboot), Han Solo, and Indiana Jones.

      TNG is all well and good but TOS has this lovely optimism to it, like the first Star Wars film. Evil may be weird and all powerful, but Kirk and Spock could defeat it with a well placed smirk and a bemused expression. Don’t get me wrong I like my darkness, torture, and complexity as much as the next girl, but what I love about the Star Trek universe is the fun. If I want to be scared I’ll watch Farscape or Doctor Who, thank you very much.

  3. Pingback: U.S. Marriage Equality or Why Australia should be Ashamed of itself | Not Her Real Name

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