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Revisiting "Ally" 14 years later
on December 5, 2011
I had forgotten that the early episodes of this series were a bit creaky. and at first Ally seemed
so young, goofy and nervous that she felt more like a teenager than a smart 27 year old lawyer.
But by episode 5 or the show and the character finds it's stride. And if it doesn't quite measure
up to the best 'grown up' TV of today, it still deserves praise for being one of the series that broke
the mold of what a TV show was supposed to be in the US.
It had an openness to complicated tones that seamlessly mixed wild, sometimes surreal humor,
more subtle humor and drama, to long story arcs and not easily solved once a week problems,
and to being more about character than event, making TV a more novelistic and sometimes
cinematic medium in the process.
Certainly Ally McBeal wasn't the first show to do any of these things, but it was one of the first
shows that was a big success with these new approaches, and that helped paved the way for
many of the best dramas dramadies and comedies on American TV in the years since.
I'll admit, with years of even braver shows since, Ally McBeal no longer feels quite as special, and
in fact now feels a little limited. Especially with DVDs allowing more than once a week viewing,
a certain sameness to Ally's constantly fearful, broken heart and her funny/sad attempts to overcome
it starts to plague the show.
But there's still a lot to enjoy here. The performances are terrific from top to bottom, and every
'silly' character is given their serious and moving moments, and every 'serious' character is allowed
to be laugh-out-loud funny at times. Special mention has to be made of Peter MacNichol's 'The Biscuit',
one of the oddest, funniest characters to actually work brilliantly in any series.
The writing is sharp and full of wit and pathos. The music is integrated in a way that was rare for
TV before, but much imitated since, with montages to songs played and sung by Vonda Shepard
(a great voice) who often also appears in the series as a singer at the lead characters favorite after
hours watering hole.
I do have to say, some of the music now feels, in retrospect, too on the nose. The songs chosen (or written) almost
always have lyrics that are too spot on, too obvious a commentary on the action, That good and bad
side to the music sort of sums up my perspective on the series looking at it again in 2011. I appreciate and admire
it for what it gave us and TV, I still enjoy it, but I'm no longer just blown away by it ' not in a world of Breaking Bad,
Weeds, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, Arrested Development, etc. etc.