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'Boston Public': Life at David E. Kelley High

Teachers, students, and sometimes the writer, cross the line in a strong new drama on Fox.


by Mark D. Johnson
November 1, 2000

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'Boston Public': Life at David E. Kelley High_Mark D. Johnson-Teachers, students, and sometimes the writer, cross the line in a strong new drama on Fox. [Editor's note: also see the author's updated review, posted on 1/10/03]

Not surprisingly, David E. Kelley, the the incredibly prolific writer and creator of "Ally McBeal", "The Practice", "Chicago Hope", and "Picket Fences," has a new series this fall. Though there is not one Boston accent to be heard, "Boston Public" is set in a large public city high school, as Kelley turns his keen eye and sharp writing skills to the educational issues that plague U.S. public schools. There certainly is a lot of material to work with, and, as usual with Kelley, the topics are timely and compelling.

Also as usual, Kelley's cleverness and impressive ability to intertwine the various topics push the limits of believability. Just because he can do it doesn't mean he should. Somehow this high school is grappling with every difficult issue in education simultaneously every day, which is why the principal spent the entire second episode with a waterbottle on his head.

Among the issues raised in the first two episodes:
  • athletes and academic eligibility
  • guns in the school
  • students rights
  • teachers rights
  • student sexuality
  • teacher sexuality
  • teacher-student romance
  • teacher-teacher romance
  • fingerprinting teachers
  • physical abuse of students by faculty and by fellow students
  • student drug abuse
  • revisionist history
  • teaching students of different ethnicity
  • parental involvement

I sometimes wish that Kelley would approach the issues more like the former NBC series "I'll Fly Away" did. That show, which deserved a much longer life, was set in the turbulent South at the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 50's. It showed how effective it can be to handle tough social issues in a more subtle manner than Kelley's in-your-face tactics, without taking any power out of the message. Then again, better art does not always result in better ratings, so maybe Kelley knows what he's doing.

Despite the ongoing credibility problems, it is easy to forgive Kelley. His creates snappy dialogue, with plenty of both humor and tension, as well as strong, believeable characters portrayed by a good, diverse cast. From the always-enjoyable Fyvish Finkel as the old, out-of-touch history teacher to the imposing authority of the black principal, and from the tough and lonely vice principal to the classy young female head of the social studies department, these are characters worth getting to know.

And "Boston Public" is a show worth watching. My hope for this show was that Kelley would return to his "Picket Fences" mode, giving us a thought-provoking feast of conflict laced with humor rather than the dancing babies of "Ally McBeal," and I am not disappointed.

Mondays at 8/7 Central on Fox.

Comments (2)


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LAUREN DAVIS from VA writes:
June 22, 2001
I THINK BOSTON PUBLIC IS THE BEST SHOW YOU CAN WATCH(ALSO ALLY MCBEAL)!! THE AWESOME ACTORS MAKE YOU FEEL WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE A TEACHER, AND THEY DO AN AWESOME JOB OF IT! EVEN THOUGH PARENTS DONT WANNA FACE IT, BUT CRAP DOES GO ON IN SCHOOLS. I MEAN THERES ALWAYS GONNA ROMANCE, WHATS WRONG WITH THAT??? NOTHING!!!! I BELIEVE THAT EVEN THOUGH TEACHERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THIER JOBS, DOESNT MEAN THAT THEY'RE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE A ROMANCE!!!

I GIVE BOSTON PUBLIC 100 THUMBS UP!!!!! I THINK THETY DESERVE 20 AWARDS!!!


[EDITOR RESPONDS:



I watched the entire season of Boston Public, and overall, I thought it was entertainment worth watching with solid acting and thought-provoking school-related issues. David Kelley's dialogue is sharp as always. I still cringe, however, with the frequent implausible situations that pop up in every show. A senior teaching a Shakespeare class without supervision? A teacher getting away with firing a gun in class? The show would be better without such unrealistic storylines.]

LAUREN (a) DAVIS from VA writes:
June 22, 2001
SURE, TEACHERS ARENT PERFECT, BUT THEY GIVE UP THIER LIVES EACH DAYS FOR THOSE STUDENTS WHO JUST DONT CARE. WHEN HARRY SHOT OF THAT GUN, HE MEANT WELL, EVEN THOUGH HE COULD HAVE DONE IT IN A BETTER FASHION.

WHEN LISA GREAR WAS TEACHING THAT CLASS, SHE WAS SHOWING THE FACULTY THAT NOW MATTER WHAT (THE WHOLE THING ABOUT BUTTLE AND HER) SHE WAS GONNA STAND UP FOR WHAT SHE BELIVED IN, I THINK DAVID E. KELLY, COULDNT CLASSIFY THAT ENOUGH.

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