Ally McBeal rocketed Callista Flockhart to stardom when it first aired in 1997, and rightly so. Her Ally is nervous, hard on herself, yearning, vulnerable, a girl’s girl still secretly (and not so secretly) hoping for Mr. Right.
As a young associate at the law firm of Cage & Fish (Peter MacNicol and Greg Germann), Ally has to navigate around working with her first true love, Billy Campbell (Gil Bellows), who’s now married to yet another associate, Georgia Thomas (Courtney Thorne-Smith). The entire cast throw themselves into their comic/serious/absurd roles and stemwinders–many of which take place in the now-infamous single-sex restroom.
The show’s premise is that Ally is this sweet, hapless waif who just wants love (specifically, the guy who dumped her), and who also wants to be seen as a good person — while consistently making a never-ending series of questionable, shallow, egotistical or downright disturbing choices. The law firm is supposed to be cool, edgy and awesome, but eight hours at that firm and the harassment suits would be flying.
Most of the men are not conventionally handsome, which is fine, except that they’re also generally painted as massive entitled jerks who are nevertheless incessantly desired and/or pursued by the firm’s females, almost all of whom are gorgeous ice-queen types. The more imperfect the man on this show? The more perfect the actress playing his love interest is guaranteed to be. The show’s supposed to be be this single-girl fantasy comedy but in fact is much more a man’s fantasy at heart (which is unfortunately where too many of Kelley’s shows seem to end up).
Yet of course these same women are ALSO willing to make out with each other on a moment’s notice (especially for sweeps) — but of course, never in a way that implies actual homosexuality or bisexuality (because that would mean they had actual depth, feelings or character progression), so it’s mostly just staged in a prurient “Look! Hot chicks making out!” kind of way.
This is never clearer than in the story line where Ally falls for a coffeehouse owner played by a terrific Mark Feuerstein, and the entire episode is really charming until Ally — who has actively explored her sexual feelings for another woman on the show dumps the guy because she is unwilling to tolerate the fact that he has a same-sex relationship in his past and she is grossed out at her mental image of him kissing another guy.
Character to watch: Callista Flockhart as Ally McBeal.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the series.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?