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Burn Out or Fade Away

We begin this week with some words from the one and only William Shatner

By David Michael Wharton     November 29, 2004

William Shatner plays legal superman Denny Crane on BOSTON LEGAL.

The last track William Shatner's album HAS BEEN is entitled "Real," and contains the lines:

And while there's a part of me
In that guy you've seen
Up there on that screen
I am so much more
And I wish I knew the things you think I do
I would change this world for sure
But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel
Sorry to disappoint you
But I'm real

It's a poignant and somewhat sorrowful response to several decades' worth of overzealous fandom, and it is also emblematic of one of the most interesting comebacks I've ever seen.

To an entire generation (or two), Shatner was Kirk. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, the guy was typecast like nobody's business. Try as he might, for the better part of the last forty years, Shatner has been unable to escape the shadow of that shirt-ripping, alien-bedding he-man of the United Federation of Planets, James Tiberius Kirk. On the other hand, his extra-Roddenberry efforts have resulted in such dubious milestones as T.J. HOOKER and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, so it's probably for the best that he eventually accepted the mantle of Kirk That Was And Is And Shall Forever Be and set about wringing every last drop of fame from that legacy.

Even when he wasn't playing the increasingly portly Kirk on screens both large and small, Shatner was cashing in the cachet that role had brought him. From his infamous SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE appearance to more recent Geek epic FREE ENTERPRISE, Shatner settled into the same self-mocking ecosystem occupied by the likes of Adam West and David Carradine (at least until Quentin Tarantino rode to his rescue). To be sure, Shatner's slightly daft, slightly pathetic take on himself in FREE ENTERPRISE was a lot more inspired than watching Adam West hock ATMs on late-night TV, but still...for a while there, Shatner was in serious danger of remaining forever entombed in the shadowy depths of has-been purgatory.

And then David E. Kelley came a'calling.

It's quite appropriate that I reference Tarantino's casting Carradine as the serpentine-cool Bill in the KILL BILL films; just as those films catapulted Kwai Chang Kane back into the pantheon of pop-culture cool, David E. Kelley's casting of Shatner as fading legal juggernaut Denny Crane in both THE PRACTICE and BOSTON LEGAL gave the actor something that would have previously seemed impossible: a role that's just as dynamic and memorable as Kirk.

In some ways, Crane is a natural progression from where Shatner last left Kirk. During the last few original-cast STAR TREK films, Kirk and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise increasingly dealt with themes of age and obsolescence. Kirk kept finding ways to stay on the bridge just a little longer, to stay out from behind the desk that would mean the adventure was well and truly over. His final appearance in GENERATIONS saw Kirk as a man whose time had literally long-since passed, but who continued struggling for just one last adventure.

In Crane, Shatner has found a new character, free of the narrative baggage that Kirk carries, but still touching on some of those same themes. Like latter-day Kirk, Crane is a titan whose glory days have come and gone. Who still has a few tricks up his sleeve, a few victories in the offing, but who is far closer to sunset than sunrise. Kirk was often at odds with Starfleet; Crane is at odds with his law firm, who are trying to find ways to force his retirement in the light of Denny's possibly fading mental faculties.

But with Crane, Shatner is a new man. For the first time in as long as I can remember, he isn't playing himself or Kirk or a thinly veiled version of himself or Kirk: Denny Crane is a wholly new incarnation, and just as fascinating as Kirk ever was. Kirk might have taken down a Gorn single-handed, but Denny Crane recites his name like an incantation of power and calls in favors from Al Sharpton and longs for a night of passion with a one-legged woman.

Shatner's excellent HAS BEEN (collaborating with Ben Folds, Aimee Mann, Nick Hornby, and other-such geniuses) paints a portrait of a man finally at peace with the legacy that has long overshadowed him. With Denny Crane, the actor has finally found a role well crafted enough to allow him to play upon the power of that legacy without being buried by it.

And for the first time, when I think of Shatner, the words that come to my minds aren't "Khaaaaaaan!" but rather, "Denny Crane."

Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks...



MONSTER HOUSE (7 PM CST, Discovery) "Egypt House." It's a house fit for Ramses himself (who shows up again later in the week), complete with a pyramid hot tub. Plagues sold separately.

FEAR FACTOR (7 PM CST, NBC) Mouth-to-mouth leech transfer. Need I say more?


Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) would like to invite you into FIGHT CLUB.

wish I could tell you more about this movie, but I'm not allowed to talk about it.

NEW UFO REVELATIONS: CATTLE MUTILATIONS (7 PM CST, History Channel) Do you have any idea of the price of liver in Reticulum? (Bonus points if you place that quote...)

DEADLINE (7 PM CST, Trio) "Old Ballgame." BRILLIANT BUT CANCELLED revisits Oliver Platt's short-lived series.

LAS VEGAS (8 PM CST, NBC) "Silver Star." Ed and Mike go looking for a possibly missing girl. And hey everybody, it's a guest appearance by the Polyphonic Spree!

THE BOURNE IDENTITY (8 PM CST, USA) Check out this original and see how Richard Chamberlain stacks up against Matt Damon.

CSI: MIAMI (9 PM CST, CBS) "After the Fall." A suspect levels accusations of brutality at Horatio, and things only get worse when his Internal Affairs nemesis Stetler is assigned to investigate.



WING COMMANDER (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Oh no. Please, for the love of God, no.

REBEL BILLIONAIRE: BRANSON'S QUEST FOR THE BEST (7 PM CST, Fox) The losing team tonight has to "sing or streak" on-stage. Why not both?

GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "But Not as Cute as Pushkin." Rory's supposed to be guiding a Yale-bound student around campus, but said student gives her the slip and heads off to party. Drunken Ivy League shenanigans abound.

NCIS (7 PM CST, CBS) "Heart Break." Spontaneous combustion alert! The team is called in to investigate when a Navy commander recovering from open-heart surgery suddenly bursts into flames.

REAL GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (7 PM CST, TBS) The only people who need to be stranded on a desert island are the network execs who greenlighted this hogwash.

WILD WEST TECH (7 PM CST, History Channel) "Deadwood Tech." While we're all waiting for the second season of DEADWOOD to come down the pike, here's a look at the "tools and practices" of the real-life frontier town.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (7 PM CST, Cinemax) Supposedly Sean Connery punched director Stephen Norrington during the filming of this movie. After sitting through it, I don't blame him (and I saw it for free).

HOUSE (8 PM CST, Fox) "Occam's Razor." A young man who calls in sick to work collapses while getting it on with his fiancé. That's what's called "karma," I believe.

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (9 PM CST, NBC) "Weak." A serial rapist in on the loose, and stopping him might rely on one victim--who just happens to be schizophrenic.



BLACK SKY: RUTAN'S RACE FOR SPACE (7 PM CST, Discovery) Tracing Burt Rutan's construction of the SpaceShipOne and pursuit of the $10 million Ansari X-prize.

THAT '70S SHOW (7 PM CST, Fox) "Surprise, Surprise." Jackie comforts Hyde after Kelso beds his sister. That's one helluva Punk'ing.

LOST (7 PM CST, ABC) "Raised by Another." The Wayback Machine tilts its focus onto pregnant Aussie Claire after nightmares trigger memories of her pre-island life.


Lana sees dead people at the morgue in the SMALLVILLE episode "Scare".

The LuthorCorp plant accidentally exposes the entire town to a toxic substance that causes horrible nightmares. What's up with the all the nightmares in tonight's shows?

THE WEST WING (8 PM CST, NBC) "A Change is Gonna Come." Bartlet's acceptance of a Taiwanese flag at a prayer breakfast causes a ruckus. And that's a word that doesn't get used enough these days. Say it with me: ruckus. Isn't that fun?

NICK & JESSICA'S FAMILY CHRISTMAS (8 PM CST, ABC) Aren't these two divorced yet?

JACK & BOBBY (8 PM CST, WB) "Today I Am a Man." Jack gets caught buying condoms, spurring Grace to plan another one of her "talks."

BLADE (8 PM CST, TNT) This "blood sprinklers" opening from this film is still one of the coolest moments to grace the screen.

GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) It's off to the City of Brotherly Love in search of full-torso vaporous apparitions.

LAW & ORDER (9 PM CST, NBC) "Enemy." What do you get when you cross heroin, three private-school girls, and an Afghan drug lord? Tonight's episode, that's what.

CSI: NY (9 PM CST, CBS) "Officer Blue." A mounted officer is killed by a sniper Central Park. As if Central Park wasn't dangerous enough already...

SCARE TACTICS (9 PM CST, Sci-Fi) I never thought I'd say this...but I miss Shannon Doherty.

COUPLING (9:20 PM CST, BBC America) "My Dinner in Hell." Steve's long-dreamt-of meeting with Mariella Frostrup doesn't go quite as he planned. This ep from the second season doesn't quite achieve the genius levels of "Inferno" or "The Girl With Two Breasts," but it's still so very, very far above the American version. (Repeat)

DRAWN TOGETHER (9:30 PM CST, Comedy Central) "The Other Cousin." Clara's sexy, mentally challenged cousin visits (I feel dirty just typing that). Also, Ling-Ling's body apparently produces hallucinogens.


THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The New Era." In this week's cross-marketing opportunity, Seth and Ryan take the ladies to a Killers concert. Which may or may not be a killer concert.

THE PINK PANTHER (7 PM CST, TCM) For the film that introduced one of Peter Sellers' most famous roles, Sellers actually has surprisingly little screen time here.

HITLER'S LOST PLAN (8 PM CST, History Channel) Investigating Hitler's sequel to "Mein Kampf."

CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (8 PM CST, CBS) "Viva Las Vegas." In case you missed the fifth season opener, which includes all manner of trouble involving Area 51 and purported alien corpses, here it is again. (Repeat)

ER (8:59 PM CST, NBC) "A Shot in the Dark." The 15-year-old son of a critically wounded police officer must decide his father's fate. Plus, a blind woman with a guide-horse. Which sounds like a Monty Python sketch. (Repeat)

LOLITA (9 PM CST, TCM) This Stanley Kubrick version of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel is probably a better film than the 1997 Adrian Lyne version, but it is sadly lacking in Dominique Swain.



FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (7 PM CST, CBS) A classic, Jimmy Durante and all. Followed immediately by...

FROSTY RETURNS (7:30 PM CST, CBS) Less classic, and Jonathan Winters replaces Jimmy Durante as narrator.


T'Pau and Archer take up a defensive posture in ENTERPRISE's "Kir'Shara".

The Vulcans and Andorians cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

THE 'BURBS (7 PM CST, WGN) Tom Hanks' finest hour. Words cannot adequately describe my fondness for this flick.

RESERVOIR DOGS (7 PM CST, Bravo) Steve Buscemi discusses the merits of tipping and Michael Madsen ensures that "Stuck in the Middle With You" will remain stuck in your head for days.

THIRD WATCH (8 PM CST, NBC) "Rat Bastard." With guest star Corbin Bernsen as...an action movie star? Oooookay.

MEDICAL INVESTIGATION (9 PM CST, NBC) "The Unclean." This show doesn't have a single character as interesting as HOUSE's Dr. House, plus it's on Friday nights. Sounds like a winning combination. Nevertheless, tonight's ep deals with flesh-eating bacteria, should you care.



ANCIENT PLASTIC SURGERY (7 PM CST, Discovery Channel) Wait till you hear the bit about Paleolithic botox.

THE PERFECT STORM (7 PM CST, NBC) The imperfect screenplay. Nice wave, though.

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (7 PM CST, TNT) Inasmuch as the sequel sucked, it was still better than this one. And at least they took those ridiculous fake breasts off poor Angelina. It's a bad sign when even Angelina Jolie fails to measure up to Hollywood's physical standards.

50 GREATEST MOVIE ANIMALS (7 PM CST, Animal Planet) Hosted by SAVED BY THE BELL's Mario Lopez. Suddenly, Elizabeth Berkely's decision to star in SHOWGIRLS doesn't look so crazy.

JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (7:30 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "Ultimatum."


The first new ep in a while finds the League encountering the Ultimen, a superteam composed of heroes who will seem strangely familiar to fans of CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS. Inuk'chuk indeed.

ANONYMOUS REX (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Sci-Fi brings Eric Garcia's series of novels to the screen, giving us a mystery set in a world where evolved dinosaurs still live and work amongst us. (I've had a few coworkers whose brains were approximately the size of a walnut.)



MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (6:30 PM CST, Fox) "Pearl Harbor." I've seen a screener of this ep, which contains a truly inspired plotline revolving around Hal's attempts to outdo his across-the-street neighbor in a battle of yard displays. This show is sometimes uneven, but it's hitting all the right marks tonight.

THE SIMPSONS (7 PM CST, Fox) "She Used to Be My Girl." A run-in with an old high school pal (g.s. Kim Cattrall) makes Marge second-guess her life's choices. Sounds awfully deep for a cartoon.


Noah Wyle exchanges his doctor's stethoscope for priceless artifacts as THE LIBRARIAN.

Carter fights Special Agent Dale Cooper with the fate of the world in the balance. Actually, this flick, which follows the adventures of the caretaker of a store of magical artifacts located beneath New York Public Library, looks like it could be fun.

MITCH ALBOM'S THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN (7 PM CST, ABC) An old man dies and awakens in Heaven where he zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (7:30 PM CST, Fox) I'm so confident this show will be funny, I'm not even going to give you a plot description. Nyah.

RAMSES: WRATH OF GOD OR MAN? (8 PM CST, Discovery Channel) Investigating links between Ramses and the Pharoh that plagued Moses. So to speak. And with Ramses popping up again, we come full circle.

This concludes our broadcast day.


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