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One of the best shows to ever hit TV. There are some pretty negative comments here, but I know why. Folks are angry that the show changed in the last few seasons and they are disappointed that it ended. The first three seasons you couldn't go to the water cooler if you had not watched the show and had some little tid-bit to say about what you saw. That spells great writing and fabulous performances to me. Calista Flockhart is a wonderful person and a terrific actress. She made the show work. without her, no Ally. There are episodes that are priceless. The dancing baby is unique and entertaining. No one had ever taken that kind of risk on TV. A computerized baby dancing with real people. Of course everyone's doing it now. I believe Ally Mcbeal to be a classic.
David E. Kelley's a talented man, no doubt about it (and since he's married
to Michelle Pfeiffer, many would add "sickeningly lucky" on top of that);
when you have a CV that includes writing for Steven Bochco shows and
successfully launching your own Twentieth Century Fox-affiliated company
(and let's not forget, "girls club" has been his only real flop on the tube
- even "Chicago Hope," which is doomed to be the Billie to "ER"'s Britney
Spears, still ran for six years), on top of being the primary writer for
your shows, it takes more than mere luck.
"Ally McBeal" was a delight for the first four years - though many claimed it would have been better without Calista Flockhart, I doubt it. True, the other characters and actors were of equal or better value - who'd want the show to be without Greg Germann as Fish, the world's most likeable inconsiderate wattle-obsessed dolt ("Ally, it's not my nature to be concerned about people, but what's wrong?") - but the show did clearly have Miss McBeal at its centre; and let us not forget that for all her insecurities, her looniness, and horrible luck in her personal life, she was in fact a pretty good lawyer when you think about it. Certainly better in court than Fish...
The people and writing were always funny and easy to take, apart from Lisa Nicole Carson as Renee* (in a TV special about the show, "This Life"'s creator Amy Jenkins said she thought Renee was smug. I agree), and adding the sultry and classy Lucy Liu to the cast was a chance that worked - her reduced role in the latter episodes, though understandable from her point of view, was a sad sign of the show's degeneration, but when Julianne Nicholson and James Marsden arrived and Peter MacNicol left that was it... and as for that child - spare me. The fun and the thrill were gradually seeping out, and Cage/Fish stopped being a place you wanted to visit. Episodes like the one where a man wanted to fly didn't help either - the toll of writing nearly every episode by himself must have affected Mr. Kelley. (Also note how that bar suddenly let people more famous than Vonda Shepard take a turn on stage. And as for Sting being allowed to act... although in fairness, Mariah Carey's episode was better than "The Bachelor" or "Glitter.")
In the end, I was searching my soul one night, and found there was so much more to life than watching a dying series. But one poor season after four good ones isn't a bad average. Thanks for the first 80%, David E. Kelley... youuuuu stinker! (He said affectionately.)
*About Lisa Nicole Carson; in all the articles written about how skinny all the women on the show were, nobody seems to have noticed that Miss Carson and Jane Krakowski are, as they say, really built.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Where did it all go wrong? By the end of season two (which turned out to be the last genuinely great season of Ally ever), the show was getting 18million viewers per ep. As it limped to its series finale by 2002, it was only getting 10. Perhaps it all started to go horribly wrong in its third season. Or maybe its fourth? Or maybe the (sadly) dreadful fifth and final? Well, in my opinion things started to go wrong in its third season when Georgia left the firm (and appears very briefly in others after she leaves or just doesn't appear at all), Renee is absent for 6 episodes in a row, Billy is killed off and new character Mark Albert is brought in a hurry. Plus the rumours of anorexia that dogged Calista Flockhart and Portia de Rossi which couldn't have helped. The show was 'revived' in its fourth season with the addition of Robert Downey Jr but still doesn't improve (well at least until its second half where it gets a little better). Jokes that weren't even funny the first time are milked for all they're worth and main characters are neglected (which is very apparent in the final season). By the fifth season, the show was dismal. Bringing in about a hundred new characters didn't help (most were later dropped) and the constant references to 9/11 didn't help matters either. Come the last-ever episode, you feel more relieved than gutted. Maybe if we had discovered that the second season finale was its last-ever ep, i would have been gutted, but despite a few good eps throughout its third and fourth season (and very very few in its final), the show fell from grace permanently and should have been put out of its misery there and then.
I'm in the middle of season four as i write these words. It's been a
few years since the last time i watched Ally McBeal but somehow it was
time again to visit the old gang at Cage & Fish.
I absolutely fell in love with this show, it's characters and story's a few years ago and I'm falling in love all over again. This show, it's heart, gentleness and (sometimes)idealistic look at life and love can get me to weep like a little schoolgirl (and I'm a man, age 32).
The story's about fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams, lost loves, Christmas spirit, special friendships,The passing of time and meandering moments, etc. have me glued to my television once again.
Out of all the mediocre American comedy shows we were bombarded with in the
1990's, Ally McBeal was a fine piece of work.
It is a comedy set in the legal sector. As a former legal clerk, I found the show quite funny at times and all the stars performed very well in their roles.
Calista Flockhart was the main star. She was the intelligent lawyer who excelled in the courtroom but her private life was a shambles. There was a lot of history between her and another lawyer Billy (played by Gill Bellows) who was now with Georgia (played by Courtney Thorne-Smith). This led to some interesting scenes.
The head of the firm was Richard Fish played by Greg Germann. Fish was only interested in the almighty dollar and didn't take life too seriously. There was also John Cage played by Peter MacNicol who was an eccentric lawyer whose courtroom antics really entertained.
The show was brilliant for it's first few years but like most TV shows, it outstayed it's welcome and lasted longer than it should have. The later episodes were very average at times.
However, Ally McBeal was a decent show and I definitely recommend the earlier episodes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember back in 1998 when I watched the 2 hour premiere of this show and
instantly I loved it. Ally was a fun character and her imagination was
entertaining, especially where you saw Elaines head expand when she talked.
An interesting love story also seemed evident as Ally goes to work at the
law firm that her high school ex boyfriend also works at. The fact that he
was married to Georgia made this very entertaining and had the audience on
the edge of their seats wondering if he would go back to Ally. The
characters were all interesting and different from each other and in time
new characters joined like Nelle and Ling. Both brought something to the
show and made it even better.
I think one of the starting points of Ally's downfall was when Billy (Ally's ex) died. That spelled the end for their relationship and that whole sequence leading up to his death was a bit wierd anyway, he went completely nuts, but I guess it was because of the brain tumour.
The inclusion of James Le Gros' character seemed completely pointless and by the 4th season there were too many characters and not enough storylines to go around. John became just too weird (the room behind the toilet was just far-fetched and stupid) his girlfriend (played by Anne Heche)lived in an old elevator - totally lame! For the entire 4th season I felt stupid watching this show because the storylines were just too out there. The only thing keeping the show alive was Robert Downey Jr's drug scandals and being fired from the show, that made headlines around the world. The fifth season hasnt aired in Australia yet, I doubt channel 7 will be in a hurry either. I will watch it when it finally does air, but I dont expect to see much of an improvement.
It is sad to see that this once great show has completely hit rock bottom and in the space of only one to two years! The blame can only be pointed at David E. Kelley. He had a good thing going - this show won awards. I think he became too greedy, he wanted to do as many shows as he could by also having The Practice and then Boston Public. He lost interest in Ally McBeal and let it turn to absolute crap! I heard that when the cast and crew were told that the show had been axed Calista jumped for joy - she was glad it was over because she saw how bad it had become.
If you ever come across the re-runs of the 1st 2nd and 3rd seasons I recommend you to see them because you will find them funny. But forget the rest, it isnt really worth watching.
Season 1-3: 8/10 Season 4: 3/10
When "Ally McBeal" premiered in Australia in July 1997, I by perchance taped
the pilot episode, not even knowing what it was about. It was that sole
episode that drew me into "Ally" magic, which quickly dominated a dull
Monday night, 8:30pm timeslot.
As a teenager who gives the typically teenaged aim of "Dawson's Creek", "Felicity" and "Charmed" a miss, "Ally" was a complete relief, despite the fact then I knew little about the law.
As expected from David E. Kelley, the characters and the actors portrayals of them are simply first rate. By far the best of the ensemble, Calista Flockhart in the title role is sensational as the insecure, uptight lawyer of Boston. The Ally character is bound to become a future cultural icon of the 1990s.
Peter MacNicol, as the weird John Cage, Greg Germann as the legally unaware, unsympathetic boss Richard Fish and Lucy Liu as the moody, bitchy Ling are the forefront supporting actors of the cast. Jane Krakowski as the snoopish, inventive secretary Elaine is pretty good too.
However, it is the weaker characters of Nelle (Portia deRossi), Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith), Billy (Gil Bellows) and Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson) that have begun to show their wear and tear in the second series. Merely, they seem to be paid for standing around looking pretty. Hopefully David E. Kelley will develop these characters more in the coming seasons, otherwise they will continue to be dominated by the stronger cast, looking like beautiful people dressed up with sex to look better than they really are.
The "Ally" cast, and their continuing ongoing struggles in the court room and in their personal lives in a dream of a law firm has been for the majority of the season, one of the most entertaining of the shows on the air today.
However, Kelley's creativity and imagery that goes into each special treat of an episode is excellent. For once, plot and character seem to go hand in hand. By breaking the barriers and creating a show that is neither four parts drama to one part comedy, or four parts comedy to one part drama, was the just the beginning of his dealing with controversial issues.
Since the cross over episode with Kelley's even better show "The Practice", I have graduated from little league law to the darker, grittier side of Boston which has now replaced "Ally" as my favourite show. But the allure for more "Ally" is still there.
As long as Kelley can continue to separate sex and controversy entirely from a show of pure genius, "Ally" will be continue to be fresh and by all means, a great show.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How can Ally McBeal be easily described? Well it actually can't because
it works on a huge variety of levels. The characters are likable and
funny, the dialogue is interesting and quirky and the stories vary from
downright silly to incredibly moving.
I guess I'm mostly referring to the first four seasons of the series rather than the travesty that was the final one. The first four seasons were fantastic to watch and I really enjoyed every episode. Yes there were one or two duds scattered here and there, but that is only to be expected with that many episodes. But there could be some really moving moments. When Ally has to inform the office that Billy has died the acting by Calista Flockhart was superb because the whole situation was totally underplayed which made the announcement almost real and that much more moving. The final scene of the season one episode "Boy to the World" was heart wrenching That said the sheer comedy moments were also wonderfully played out. Ally getting stuck in a toilet, her fear of murderers, her trial for statutory rape are all a joy to watch.
But how could it all go so wrong after so much right? I won't say I watched the entire 5th season, it was just to painful to see such a decline. We were missing Renee, Ling, Georgia, Billy and Larry, it just couldn't be the same. And after that ridiculous daughter storyline happened, the series was doomed. It's a huge shame it had to end the way it did because of Robert Downey Jr's forced exit from the show. The character of Larry Paul breathed new life into the series and the hasty rewrites at the end of the 4th season are all to evident, yet even these are much better than anything much that passed for the 5th season.
But I can't condemn a series for one flawed final season when it brought me so much joy with the 4 previous ones. All in all I loved Ally McBeal for what it was, and I shall continue to watch my first 4 season DVD's for long time yet
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.
TV critics are supposed to use their experience and knowledge to map
out the salient points of a TV series. Certainly on this side of the
Pond, the TV critics seemed to have lost the plot - if they had found
the plot in the first place. None of them liked Ally McBeal and they
failed to find the essence of the programme.
What was interesting from my point of view is that it poked fun at the litigation culture which is prevalent in the USA, and is beginning to gather momentum in Britain, where people can sue one another often for the most ridiculous reasons. But if you had been fired for the most ridiculous reasons - for having orange skin or for seeing unicorns or for thinking you are Santa Claus - the team of lawyers at Cage and Fish would fight your case for you. However ridiculous the case, the programme took the legal arguments seriously, and John Cage's summations were a work of art, as they should have been after spending the night pacing round his office in his bare feet.
Some of the funniest moments in TV or cinematic history come from this show. The scene where John Cage's blowtorch erupts in the courtroom had me laughing so hard that I was literally fighting for breath.
Counterbalancing the humour was a great deal of pathos involving the characters whose entire lives are lived under the aegis of Cage and Fish - even the bar where Vonda Shepard performs is in the same building as the office.
Over the years, there were inevitable personnel changes in the cast. One of the most successful ones I thought was the introduction of Jackson Duper - one sane man in Cage and Fish's mad unisex toilet.
I know a little bit about acting - enough to know that much of the stuff the actors were doing is very difficult, so the cast are to be commended. Calista Flockhart made something outstanding out of a character that is essentially a cipher. She is a terrific dancer, too. It is a pity that so-called professional TV critics home in on her short skirts and her long, slender legs. They seem to be unaware that she is actually playing a role.
Peter McNicol's is just brilliant as John Cage, a man who jaywalks the border between genius and insanity. Greg Germann is excellent as Richard Fish.
Perhaps series 6 was a bit of a disaster. Certainly the inclusion of Dame Edna Everage is a good reason for reaching for the off switch. But I shed no tears over it: it just goes to show that there are two times that a classic series can end: too soon and too late.
And this series is a classic. So enjoy the 112 episodes. Like the Molly Maguires. "we'll never see the likes of them again."
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