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