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Ally McBeal and Billy Thomas were going steady throughout their childhoods. Ally even followed Billy to Harvard law school despite having no interest in law. But when Billy chose to pursue a career in law away from Ally, their relationship came to an end. In the present, an old classmate of Ally's named Richard Fish gives Ally a job at his law firm, where Billy and his new wife are also working. This puts Ally in a predicament since she still has feelings for Billy which she's laboring to get over. At the office, Ally puts up with a nosy, gossiping secretary named Elaine, and an oddball lawyer named John Cage never seems to lose a case. At home, Ally's friend and house-mate Renée regularly advises her on her love life. The series follows Ally's trials and tribulations in life through her eyes, and caricaturizes her personal thoughts and fantasies. Written by
Ondre Lombard <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Looking back on Ally McBeal: A show for teenagers?
When I first saw this show (back in 2002) I was still a young teenager and I LOVED it. I thought a lot of the jokes were funny, the quirky characters were fresh and exciting and the often silly story lines (the cases, mostly) were as entertaining as smart. I also identified a lot with John Cage, being socially awkward yet intelligent and innovative, and Ally herself, being slightly neurotic and a hopeless romantic. I guess I kind of lost interest in the show as it reached its final season and must've forgotten about the bad stuff since I always held it in high regard.
Recently I started watching it again, and having seen A LOT of different series over the years as well as other work from Mr. Kelley I have to say, I'm disappointed. The first 2 seasons only barely still worked for me and after that it went downhill real fast. What changed? How come I connected to a show on an emotional level this well 10 years ago and now all I can see is flaws?
Well, I think those 10 years really made that much a difference. Take these 'hallucinations' Ally ha(s/d) for example. Where they were a relatively new and refreshing way to show how she viewed other people and how she reacted emotionally to certain situations in a slightly comedic way back in the 90s, now they look cheap and silly, at best (and not because of the often poor animation.) Where I could fist simply 'accept' these hallucinations occurring because of the comedic tone of the show, now I can't help but conclude this is a sign of a severe mental illness and a person like that working in a law firm is simply not a believable scenario. There's even this one episode about Ally really starting to believe in them and locking herself into her room, her friends and colleagues worry about her, and then it's all 'resolved' with no further consequences (not even a psych-evaluation) and she can go back to work no problem, just like that. These hallucinations feel like an enormous plot hole (if not a flaw on a conceptual level) rather than funny gags in between because of the semi-serious approach to them. I don't know whether problems like these are really due to experimenting with the format and the newness of it all, but I'm willing to do the show a favor and see it that way.
Of course, not only the show aged, I aged as well. And as I've grown into adulthood I am baffled by the idea this show was meant for adults. I quickly came to the conclusion that most of the characters were written as teenagers, on a mental as well as an emotional level. Ally is of course the best example of this, always doubting everything around her as well as herself, being insecure about herself, either not thinking about consequences of a situation or overthinking them... I could go on but you get the idea. The other characters have some pretty childish traits as well without something else making up for it. I get why I liked this show as much as I did when I was still a teen, but now it's just way too hard to even view these characters as believable, let alone connect with them.
Then there are the 'political' issues. If you've ever seen even one episode of a show by David E. Kelley you know what I'm talking about. Both Boston Legal and Ally McBeal are obviously very liberal shows with a high sense morality and this needn't be a problem, but it is, in many ways. I myself am a liberal, yet I take offense to the notion that all non-liberals are dumb for not being liberals or are simply evil. This notion however is a recurring theme in both shows and I think it displays liberals as closed-minded and smug. Another problem is the 'pro-woman' tone, particularly in Ally McBeal. Men are mostly displayed as either wimpy 'good guys' (Billy first 2 seasons) or sex-crazed assholes (Billy 3rd season, Richard Fish) and I take offense to that as a man.
I often get the feeling the writers really want to rub my face in what they think is morally right, and it's just annoying. I guess having grown up and having found my own sense of right and wrong really clashes with the show, another reason for me to argue it's more suited for teens rather than adults.
For me these are the real big issues with the show as a whole, the characters aren't believable on multiple levels, some aspects of the show are too 'out there' and remain unexplored and the political and moral messages are too one-sided and painfully present. There are some minor issues as well, Elaine never being funny even though she was obviously meant as comic relief, the never ending overuse of Vonda Shepard and her annoying voice, the quality of the animation, etc. etc. These are however a lot more subjective and don't affect the show as much as the rest, the show would be better without them but they don't ruin it either.
Lastly, what DOES still hold up? Well, as I've said the first 2 seasons are okay, even for today's standards. They don't hold up all that great because of aforementioned issues but they do have a lot going for them as well. The cast is great, most of the actors deliver a good, if not great, performance, the silly story lines usually don't get too silly and are entertaining enough to follow and even with their problems there are still some genuinely funny characters in the mix (Dr. Tracey being my favorite, but Richard Fish is also pretty funny at times, to name a few).
So, is it still watchable? Yes, but I'd prefer watching something else. I'm an adult now.
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