In the late 90’s Ally McBeal was a hero to single women everywhere. Ally is an attractive perky Boston lawyer, who recently started working at a new law firm, Cage/Fish and associates.
I dare anyone who was a fan of the show not to sing along when you play the clip below.
On her first day she finds out that the love of her life, with whom, she broke up several years before is also working at the same firm and is married. The Ally (Calista Flockhart) Billy (Gil Bellows) dynamic is the center of the show for many seasons, it is a scenario many women can relate to, pining over lost love. This storyline wasn’t original, it had been done before.
So what made Ally McBeal so popular, it was FOX’s highest rated show for many years. The originality was found in the characters, the music, the voiceovers and the cut aways that dramatized the fantasies of the characters. The show was created by the prolific David E. Kelly, click the link to read his IMDB page, you will see what I mean.
The music, the theme written and performed by Vonda Shepherd was so popular it landed on the radio and became a Top 40 hit. Shepherd’s music was regularly featured between scenes and Shepherd herself was the singer in the bar the characters frequented at the end of almost every episode. In addition, songs by Barry White, Anastasia, Josh Groban, Tina Turner among others became signatures for the show and a compilation album, Songs from Ally McBeal was released.
The characters, partner Richard Fish, played by Greg German, his cut to the chase say it like it is way of handling things was refreshing. His wattle fetish, and his humourous mottos, “Fishisms” he called them like “bygones” became catchphrases we used in everyday life and were instantly recognizable as references to Ally McBeal.
Perhaps the most endearing of all the characters, was John Cage, (aka The Biscuit) played by Peter MacNicol. His remote toilet flusher, he likes a fresh bowl and dismount of the bowl became his signatures. His character was both a legal mastermind and painfully shy around women. The first time we met him, he had been arrested.
Ally’s secretary Elaine, played by Jane Krakowski, always dressed inappropriately and making sure everyone knew how much she contributed, and always butting into Ally’s life was a fantastic character. She was annoying and fun all at the same time, her catchphrase, “snappish” also became a part of our daily lives.
Over the years they added several other memorable characters, Ling Woo (Lucy Liu) and Nelle Porter ( Portia de Rossi) and of course the collection of Ally’s boyfriends, judges and clients. Two of the most notable recurring characters were played by Dyan Cannon and Robert Downey Jr.
Not everyone loved the show, its critics were vocal and blamed Ally for killing feminism, her skirts were too shirt, her knowledge of the law pathetic and she was emotionally unstable. Oh people if a television character could really kill a whole movement then maybe the problem is the movement.
The show ran for five season, its ratings dipped midway thru the third, that’s when Robert Downey was brought in as Ally’s boyfriend, but was written out by the end of the season due to his real life struggles with drugs.
The season 5 saw many of its regular characters depart the series without explanation and the show was cancelled.
Aside from the issues, like the uproar over Calista and Portia’s weight, and the behind scenes drama with the actors that seems part of the course on a David E Kelly show. Ally McBeal was an orginal and her struggles still hold up today for any women searching to find that someone special, and her place in the world.
If you have a rainy weekend stream it on Netflix.