Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday TV Special: Ally McBeal

By Sati. Saturday, March 24, 2012 ,
Plot: Ally McBeal is a lawyer in her late twenties. She is constantly looking for her Mr. Right, being a hopeless romantic and a neurotic. She gets a job in Fish & Cage firm and she finds out that her childhood sweetheart who left her during law school - Billy - not only works there but is happily married. Of course it's a horrible idea for them to work in such proximity and the first two seasons of the show focus on the dynamics between them and given how Ally bonds with Billy's wife Georgia it only makes the matters worse
Structure: Each episode follows a different case the firm takes. The cases are amazing - weird, shocking, unusual, frequently very moving or funny. There is a case of a boy who is ill with cancer and wants to sue God, a woman who is more happy dreaming and wants to get a court order for a hospital to put her in a coma, the man who cuts off his wife's arm after she is dead because he loved her so much he didn't want to lose the ability of being able to hold her hand and a lot of sexual harassment law suits, which usually make for the most entertaining episodes in the show. The series also follows Ally's and her friends' romantic life and their struggle to find happiness. The series however gets incredibly messy in its 5th season, mostly due to the fact Robert Downey Jr. was fired because of his drug use and since his character was a big part of the 4th season the series basically collapsed after that, even though there are some funny moments in the show's final season. 
Verdict:  The show was ahead of its time in 1997 when it premiered and remains this way now, in 2012. Never again have I seen the show which has such an ability to present characters which may be even pitiful or unlikeable in a likable way. We have Ally, who is so pathetically needy and quite probably completely nuts, yet we root for her. We have Richard Fish, a man driven only to get more money, but he is one of the show's best character - the episodes where Fish, who is a very lousy lawyer, appears in court giving his opinions which are just riddled with sexism and stupidity are the most hilarious. There is also John Cage, very weird man but a brilliant lawyer - the techniques he uses to distract the opponent including him slowly pouring water into the glass never fail to make me laugh, same as his catchphrases - "Unacceptable", "I won't stand to be disparaged" and "I'm troubled". There is also Ling, vicious and mean out to sue everyone and Nelle, beautiful blonde appearing to be cold, but hiding kindness inside. And we have Elaine, desperate secretary always listening in to whatever is happening in the office and coming up with insane inventions including face-bra and pregnancy dress. There are also others and the clients themselves, who are always memorable and it's really never clear who will won, with the frequent insanity and weirdness of the cases.  
What makes it so great? The amazing script, dialogue and the uncanny atmosphere of the show - it is filled with Ally's hallucinations - including the most famous one - dancing baby Ally keeps seeing, quick scenes which show how she is feeling at the moment and a LOT of music - Vonda Shephard who provides the majority of the soundtrack for the series sings in every episode, in the bar where the lawyers go after the case is over. The show is a constant mix of sad and funny - it is very sympathetic towards it characters and at times its heartbreaking, when we see the depth of solitude and loneliness most of the show's characters deal with. The series also has the most wonderful and nostalgic Christmas episodes. And don't even get me started about the possibly most romantic and beautiful moment in any series, ever - when Robert Downey Jr.'s character Larry and Sting sing "Every breath you take" on stage for Ally's 30th birthday.
Whom you may recognize: Calista Flockhart in her unforgettable performance as Ally, Robert Downey Jr's Golden Globe performance as Larry, her main love interest in season 4, Peter MacNicol as eccentric John Cage, Lucy Liu as Ling, Portia de Rossi as Nelle and a whole bunch of supporting characters and guest appearances by among others Christina Ricci, Betty White and Anne Heche.
Who's behind it?  David E. Kelley, the creator of "Boston Legal", "Boston Public" and "The Practice".
Who will like it? Fans of dramedies, quirky characters and crazy legal cases.
When and where?  5 seasons are available on DVD.

7 comments:

  1. Great review of this series. Ling and Elaine were probably my favorite characters, but I liked all of them. I agree that it kind of lost its way at the end, but what a welcome surprise it was every episode for the first several seasons!

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    1. Yeah, they were all likeable, which isn't something common in TV series.

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  2. Just saw the Robert Downey singing clip on Youtube. Didn't know he was on the show. Doubt that's really him singing, but who cares? In terms of charisma, I can think of many actors who has more of it than him...

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    1. Actually, that's really him, he even recorded an album few years back.

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  3. I highly recommend you watch Kelley's first series - Picket Fences - if you can find it. All subsequent shows by him (Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice, etc.) have been subsets of the brilliance of his first show. Everything that was great about all these different shows were combined into one show.

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    1. Wow, I never heard of that show! I'm gonan have to track it down, thanks for recommendation!

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    2. You're welcome. You may have trouble finding more than the first season. That's all that I have ever seen released on DVD. It's the best of the seasons, IMO, so that's the good news. Kelley wrote every script that season. There were a total of four seasons, each one had less and less Kelley input. The fourth season was run by someone else, wasn't that good, and the show was cancelled.

      What I meant by it combining all the others is that it did cop/murder mystery stories (the lead character is a sheriff), doctor stories (his wife is a doctor), lawyer stories (a local defense lawyer and judge were regular characters and season 2 on had a prosecutor), family stories (the sheriff and doctor have three kids - a teenage daughter from his first marriage and two younger sons together), sexual/romantic tension (the two main deputies are a man and a woman), and small town weirdness (any number of supporting characters). Oh, and being the mayor is a bit like being a Spinal Tap drummer.

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