First aired:8th September 1997
Calista Flockhart – Ally McBeal
Gill Bellows – Billy Thomas
Greg Germann – Richard Fish
Lisa Nicole Carson – Renee Raddick
Jane Krakowski – Elaine Vassal
Richard Riehle – Jack Billings
Courtney Thorne-Smith – Georgia Thomas
Eric Cohen & Steve Cohen – The Twins
Synopsis: A young woman called Ally McBeal narrates her history with the boy next door. From sniffing one another’s bums at 7 to their school-years, college years and them him leaving Harvard in their first year to move to Michigan, leaving her behind. Ally’s heart breaks without him.
Years later and she is an associate in a prestigious law firm in Boston. She quits after the firm sides with a senior colleague in her claim for sexual harassment. On her way out, she bumps into law school classmate, the cheerfully amoral Richard Fish. He offers her a job at his new firm as an associate. She is given an assistant, the bizarre Elaine Vassal, who is both on Ally’s side and yet the worst person to be working with. Despite this, it all seems great, until Ally meets his other associate, Billy Thomas, the boy who left. Fish offers to help with her lawsuit, but that does mean working with Billy.
Ally learns that Billy is married and reeling from that bombshell has to head to a court appearance and it goes badly. She is then brought into deal with a tax case, but dealing with Billy is hard, especially after meeting his beautiful wife Georgia.
Ally and her room-mate Renee go dancing to let off steam. When they get home, Georgia is there and the two talk about Billy, it turns out Billy left out how involved he and Ally were. This causes the conversation to go south pretty quickly. That encounter causes Ally and Billy to torpedo her case against her former colleague Jack Billings.
Ally wins the case she lost earlier on appeal and then helps Billy land a big client. Georgia shows up and tries to make peace, but Renee and Elaine end up causing more arguments and this furthers the tension. With all this going on, Richard Fish is able to use underhanded means to force a settlement of Ally’s case.
At the end of her first week, Ally talks wth Billy and the pair admit that working together isn’t going to work. They clearly still love one another and yet neither are willing to walk away from this job. Ally walks home, aware that she really doesn’t want to be happy just yet, that she enjoys the quest too much. The journey is what she really wants and she’s actually having the time of her life.
Notes: I had a great deal of difficulty cataloguing what kind of show this is, it fits the procedural in that it’s very workplace set, but there’s also a strong comedic tone throughout the show, but it’s not a comedy either. There really aren’t many shows like this. One of the show’s biggest pluses.
There are negatives, the show has dated a little bit, attitudes and such. The intermittent narration is also a little of-putting. The main gripe I have about this show is the soundtrack. What blackmail material on David E. Kelly the creator, did Vonda Sheppard have? Every song in the show is by her, she’s in all of the bar scenes and there’s also the theme tune, which means that if you find her even the tiniest bit irksome, then this show is going to be a hard sit. Needless to say, the mute button came in handy when there was no one talking.
But there is a lot of good here. The light tone of the show eases you into it and as the lead Flockhart does do pretty well. She’s sympathetic if not wholly likeable and she owns the scenes she is in. The rest of the cast are also pretty good. Greg Germann’s Richard Fish is a man completely in it for the money, with little to no ethics to work with and yet he’s also someone you can root for because he is so blatant about it. This is an honest man, who freely admits that he is shallow and mercenary, making those qualities his virtues rather than his faillings. Jane Krakowski also leaves an impression, full of drama and affected quirks, she is clearly trying to be the centre of attention, no matter where she is or what she’s doing. At times it feels like she’s in the wrong show and has been left behind to fit into this one, but she is giving it her all. Even Courtney Thorne-Smith, given the thankless role of the other woman is sympathetic and you get the feeling that both Ally and Georgia have been given the shitty end of the stick in their dealings with Billy. Lisa Nicole Carson is pretty uninteresting in the best friend role and the rest if left to Gill Bellow’s Billy. The problem is that he doesn’t really fit, he doesn’t seem the same age as Ally and has a bit of a personality vaccuum that makes his being married to Georgia, whom the show seems intent on convincing us she’s this wonderful woman that all men want and all women envy, seem slightly unrealistic. Callista Flockhart sells the idea that she loved Billy then and still does, but Bellows doesn’t really sell me the idea of why.
Does that harm the show? I mean the core of the show’s mythology seems to be the Ally/Billy/Georgia triangle and that has yet to land for me. But the thing is, the legal drama, the emotional journey of a woman who has no idea what she is doing and the cast of bizarre characters does happen to paper over the cracks of this show. The overall effect is that it’s a fun show that’s oddly compelling and I was glad when the MIGHTY Rosie added it to the docket, because this really was a bit of a tv gem.
Does it work? Yes, combining a legal procedurals a with a set of romantic comedy tropes makes an enjoying hybrid.
Does much need fixing? It needs a bigger cast and bit more depth from the main cast.
Does it stand up? It is very much a product of it’s time but yes it does.
Do I want to watch the next one? I did and have been re-watching it a couple of episodes at a time.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, this show is still a lot of fun.
Overall: 4 out of 5. I am glad to be reintroduced to Ms McBeal and her strange little world, despite Vonda Shepherd