Who: “Ally McBeal,” a legal comedy-drama that aired on the Fox network from 1997-2002.
What: Created and produced by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young lawyer working in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, with other young lawyers whose lives and loves were eccentric, humorous, and dramatic.
Allison Marie “Ally” McBeal (Flockhart) joins Cage & Fish (co-owned by her law school classmate Richard Fish, played by Greg Germann) after leaving her previous job due to sexual harassment. On her first day, Ally is horrified to find that she will be working alongside her ex-boyfriend Billy Thomas (Gil Bellows), whom she has never gotten over. To make things worse, Billy is now married to fellow lawyer Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith), who also later joins Cage and Fish, a firm with an eccentric bunch of passionate attorneys who frequently flirt, have sex with, and date each other, often in or around the office’s centralized unisex bathroom. Ally, blessed with the most active imagination of all the show’s characters, is particularly given to vivid, dramatic fantasy sequences (she calls them hallucinations), such as the infamous dancing baby that became a cultural phenomenon on the cusp of the new millennium.
When: The show aired in its entirety from 1997-2002 on the Fox network.
Where: The show is set in Boston, Massachusetts, at a fictional law firm.
Why: Listen to the podcast for the panelists’ individual stories on how they found Ally McBeal. This moderator’s rediscovery of the show largely centered on a brief study of the career of Calista Flockhart prior to watching another program featuring her in the main cast, as this was the show that made her a household name.
How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS
Via a convoluted path, your Chief Couch Potato rediscovered Ally McBeal on Netflix over the summer. My individual, crazy journey started with The Americans and wanting to watch the shows that made its two stars famous. For Keri Russell, that was Felicity (reviewed here), but for Matthew Rhys, it was Brothers & Sisters, which, as you might know, also heavily featured Calista Flockhart as one of the Walker siblings (sister to Rhys’ Kevin). I decided to watch the shows that made other members of the Brothers & Sisters cast, several of whom were not appearing in their first television show, famous. What’s more, I decided to rip the band-aid off and watch this throwback from the 90s, Ally McBeal, a program I never liked much during its initial run. The reason I mostly didn’t like it, at the time, was Flockhart and/or the title character itself, which is something I saw as problematic to my overall enjoyment of the show. I wish I could tangibly say why or what my problem with the actress/her celebrity or the character was – although, I think many worthy arguments are touched upon in the podcast you’re about to hear.
Of course, I was in my early twenties when Ally McBeal aired, and I conceded, at the time I made the decision to watch it in its entirety this past summer – as to say I re-watched it is disingenuous, given that I could never make it through a season when it was actually airing – that it was possible that I prejudged the show harshly. After all, for its time, it was something of a cultural touchstone (Dancing Baby, anyone?), Harrison Ford certainly seems to like the woman he eventually married, and I certainly like him. I started to wonder if I might not like the program better now that I’m older, including waifish Calista, with the lens of two decades passed.
The good news is, I did like it somewhat better, but I still found some of the show difficult to wholly enjoy. There were aspects, qualities, and moments that still did not sit well with me, particularly in the fifth season. I also knew the show was somewhat popular, so I took to the streets of social media and invited a small but robust panel of fellow Couch Potatoes to chat, over wine, about how they felt about the eccentric Ally McBeal, one show that helped to close a millennium, stirring up a few controversies in the process. This podcast was recorded in December 2015, and there are, without question, MAJOR SPOILERS, as we cover major plot points throughout all five seasons. Listen at your own risk, and let us know what you think by commenting below!
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Ally McBeal is recommended to anyone who enjoys David E. Kelley shows, such as The Practice, Boston Legal, and Harry’s Law. The show is also recommended to fans of Calista Flockhart, as the main/title character is, perhaps rightly, given central focus, for better or for worse. The podcast panelists felt that the show was not for everyone but, at the same time, thought highly enough of the show to recommend it cautiously because Ally McBeal makes the viewer think, tugs at the heartstrings, and provides genuine laughter, in addition to dancing babies and the music of Vonda Shepard. There are also some heavy hitters in this cast that went on to bigger and better things, including Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development, Better Off Ted, being married to Ellen DeGeneres), Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels films, Kill Bill), Courtney Thorne-Smith (According to Jim), and a few regulars who had established careers, including Peter MacNicol and Robert Downey, Jr. The entire series is available at all of the streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Watch it if you want to laugh, cry, and occasionally yell at the TV…you’ll find out why.