Character Analysis: Alan Shore

It’s no mystery that Boston Legal is one of my favorite shows.  It mixes a very romanticized version of the legal field, with some cold hard realities of our times.  Of course, the thing that cements this show as something to love for me, are the characters of Alan Shore, played brilliantly by James Spader, and Denny Crane, also brilliantly portrayed by William Shatner.  The dialogues between these two characters are nothing short of awe-inspiringly funny, clever, sometimes sad, and other times incredibly heart-warming.  But Alan Shore is the character who stole the show, for me, anyway.

This is an incredibly complex character.  It is only natural that they pick James Spader to play him.  He is good with the quiet and somber role, but also expands in this to have some mirthful (albeit sometimes sinister or in bad-humor), and genuinely happy moments.  But this character is very deserving of an analysis, and here it goes.

First, a little back-story on where this character came from.  He first appeared in The Practice.  He came in during it’s final season.  He was hired by his friend, Elenor Frutt.  It is very clear that he is quite amicable with her, but like with most fields he goes into, he quickly draws the ire of the men that he works with.  He came to their firm, Young, Frutt, and Berlutti, he had been fired from his previous firm for embezzlement.  So yeah, it was very quick that the others at the firm didn’t come to trust him, save Elenor, who was his friend.

It became very apparent that, while he worked for what he believed to be the greater good, he was ready and willing to bend the rules, or break them entirely.  He has shown, on numerous occasions, that breaking the law is not something he fears.  In fact, he takes a lot of pleasure when he can bend or break the law in order to get his final objective.  There are some questions that what he views as the right thing to do may not always be right, but if he believes in a cause, he will do whatever it takes to get it.

But, the firm took a severe disliking to him and his way of doing things, and he got fired after only eight months there.  Since Alan had brought in more business to the firm than anybody else, and was given hardly anything as severance, he sued the firm after getting fired, causing them to break down because of loyalties, and the belief in what is right and what is wrong.

However, after being fired by them, he is picked up by the firm that represented him, Crane, Poole, and Schmidt.  This is because Denny Crane, one of the named partners, takes a liking to Shore.  This begins what will later become the pivotal friendship that Shore has in his life.  Like his previous job, the moment he gets to the firm, the men take a quick disliking to him.  And while he is an Associate, it is clear that he has power and influence far beyond what his position would entail.

But to examine the character more closely, Shore is a very brilliant mind.  He keeps up with as much of the current events as he possible can, and it shows in his legal cases.  The typical pattern he follows when arguing a case is to look at the issue, find the deeper societal problem that caused this to happen, and then to propose that this societal error is the reason for why the case he is arguing took place, rather than the fault of the person or persons themselves.  It is a clever strategy, and he is very good at shining a rather unpleasant light the society at large.

Another way his societal evaluations come to light is in another common theme at the show – to have Shore and Crane talking on a balcony, drinking scotch and smoking a cigar together.  He will often talk about what the episode’s interactiongs have gotten him to think about.  One of the charms in these instances is that Shore and Crane are so very far apart on the political spectrum, so they disagree with each other’s conclusions, while still able to remain amicable with one-another.

Shore is a fiercely loyal friend.  Once he considers somebody to be a friend, he won’t, under any circumstances, cross them.  He defends Denny repeatedly from the growing amount of legal problems that he has, and will not cross his best friend in any way.  He is even threatened with being fired once, if he didn’t cross Denny, which he didn’t.  When he comes to work for Crane, Poole, and Schmidt, and he is asked to go against his friend Elenor from his previous firm, he declines immediately, without a moment’s hesitation, stating his position clearly.  It becomes a point of interest to some of the other characters, how he seems to have little to no scruples, but will fight it out with anybody to help a friend.

One point of interest is that while Shore has little to no scruples, he has a very strict code of justice that he adheres to.  He refuses to represent evil people.  He will represent those whose actions are morally gray, but straight-up evil is where he takes a hard line against.  He tries to focus his cases and his efforts on achieving this code that he lives by.  And he will do whatever it takes to get the justice that he believes is deserved.  He even barges into a meeting of the senior partners in order to defend his friend, Jerry Espenson, when he is going to be denied partnership because of his quirks.  The law and being fired apparently hold no fear for Shore.

However, for all of his character successes, there are a lot of major problems with Shore’s character.  The first is that he is a very hardcore womanizer.  He has an insatiable sexual appetite, which he will us anybody he deems visually pleasing enough to fill.  He is a very charming man, so finding women to fill this appetite usually isn’t difficult.  One of the reasons that men don’t like Shore much is that his winsome attitude and his incredible amounts of success with women are very quick to draw ire.

He also has a very bad habit of sexually harassing women in the workplace.  He often makes some very sexual remarks to his boss, and one of the partners, Shirley Schmidt.  She respects (often grudgingly) him for his brilliance and his efforts to help those who are friends, also getting her help when she’s needed it on multiple occasions, but has remarked that she will eventually have to fire him, and it will be a hard thing for her to do.  Shore had a secretary that he sexually harassed often, especially the comments about how sexy her sweaters were.

Another failing that Shore has is that he has repeatedly remarked about how it is difficult for him to connect with other people.  In a quote to his assistant, Tara Wilson, he said –

I hate being alone, but I’m good at it.

He often talks about how he seems to be incredibly distant from the human race.  One of the reasons he finds such solace with Denny is that the two seem to share this problem.  Shore has remarked that one of the reasons he is so distant from women, emotionally, is how he was sexually abused as a child.  He lost his virginity at age 14 to one of the neighbors that he was working for at the time.  Ever since then, he has claimed that he is “missing a love gene.”

Perhaps the biggest fault that Shore has is his grandiose view of himself.  He suffers from severe narcissism.  He once remakred that he would get lose in when he talks, because he loves himself talking so much that for him, it is a lot like a listening experience.  One of the reasons he likes talking to Denny is that he said that it is often like he isn’t in the room, so Shore is talking to himself.

His faults aside, he does have a lot of little quirks.  He regularly suffers from sleepwalking, which is associated with severe night terrors.  He also have a very amusing fear of clowns.  That comes from when his mother tormented him with a clown mask.  Because of this fear, he hates those little blow-up clown dolls that you hit and pop right back up.  He once regarded an adversery that he had, Melvin Palmer, as a clown doll, becaue he kept bouncing back after Shore would defeat him, seeming totally unphased by the experience.

Alan Shore is probably one of the most interesting characters that I have seen in some time.  He is a very smart, very clever, and very interesting character to watch.  It makes the fact that Boston Legal didn’t do so well and was cancelled that much more depressing.  Oh well, this will always be a favorite anti-hero of mine.  He is most definitely that.  And if you haven’t seen the show, you really should.

Until next time, a quote,

“My best friend has Alzheimer’s.  In the very early stages, it hasn’t-.  He is a grand lover of life, and will be for some time.  I believe that even when his mind starts to really go, he’ll still fish, he’ll laugh, and love.  And as it progesses, he’ll still want to live, because there will still be value for him in friendship, in a cigar.  The truth is, I don’t think there will ever come a day when he’ll come to me and say, ‘this is the day I want to die.’  But, the day is coming.”  -closing argument by Alan Shore, Boston Legal

Peace out,



8 thoughts on “Character Analysis: Alan Shore

  1. I am a very big fan of James Spader and watched many movies of him. You are absolutely correct, he is got to be the best character i have ever seen on TV. He projects everything we are (except the insatiable sex and male chauvinism) or want to be. He is amazing in his legal arguments and fundamental principles of justice. You did a fantastic job in your analysis, however, I do not agree with him being sexually abused as a child ..and there had been no inference of this from happening in his childhood from the show. Only his mother touching his leg while fitting him with trousers and him not having a good relationship with his father that was surfaced in the show. Thanks again for a great thesis on the best character ever to surface in the screen. Like Jerry Espenson (my second favourite) says “after Alan, there will never be another like him” or “he likes to get dominion of the courtroom, frames the issue and get the opposing lawyer(s) case off balance” …Jerry Espenson is an amazing character as well …and the scene where Jerry and Alan when head to head and Alan showed is incredible cruelty in lawyering is when he says: “you are terrified to be in the room and when you get up to give your closing, your Hands Espenson, and feeling with my stare upon you and knowing what i know; i know what you are Jerry, a bumbling unintelligible man with Asbergers, because that’s what you are Jerry!!”

    cruel but brilliant!

    • Okay, when your username and email name are both this guy, I’m just putting this out there – you may love him a little much. Just sayin’. And in my opinion, he is far from the greatest character ever. I don’t know who that is, but it isn’t him. He has too many flaws and is a little formulaic to be the greatest character ever to be on the small screen.

      • Who is the greatest character ever to be on small screen?
        That’s an answer that can’t possibly be give. Greatest to whom? For what purpose? It’s a very perceptive answer.
        And too many flaws? Really? A character without a flaw would be the worst character in the world. The reason all great characters in any piece of literature or entertainment have flaws is so that the reader/viewer may relate to them. Without flaws, the character would be unable to induce a sense of attachment.

        Alan Shore’s sense of morality might seems strange to some, but it’s a much deeper way of thinking than the general public. Also, his passion has a sort of guile about him. An individual who cannot experience that would not consider Alan Shore to be a great character, and I wouldn’t fault him.

        For me Alan Shore is “one of the greatest” characters on television. Quite simply because I can relate to him. Not because he is the perfect individual.

    • Well Alan admitted that he was indeed abused as a child in season 4 by his mom’s friend!! This is not the author’s perception but the truth! And i agree completely with the author!! Alan Shore is one of my favorite characters!!

  2. Thank you for expressing your thoughts and feelings about Alan Shore. I watched the Practice and Boston Legal and now watch the BL reruns. I am a big fan and share your views about the relationship between Alan and Denny. I am a huge fan of the Law and Order show and loved Ben Stone played by Michael Moriarity. I enjoy well written shows about the law with strong characters because I don’t want my intelligence insulted as I want to escape for a time into an interesting world. Thanks again!

  3. I wish that I had watched this show (The Practice and Boston Legal) when it was on — I had no idea.

    I *knew* an Alan Shore — brilliant, unstable, mean at turns, and ferocious for causes as he decides them. Oh, and brilliant — did I say that?

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