- Title: Ally McBeal – The Complete Series
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“That stuff about me being emotional, falling in love with men whose bottoms I’ve smelled, submitting x-rays to a judge who has a tooth fetish and sleeps with hookers, snapping at pedestrians who think a square shoulder can be mitigated by ‘I’m sorry.’ I am human, I am temperamental, I am guilty.”
Fishisms. Short skirts. Barry White. The Law. The unisex. Theme song. Coffee. The bar. Waddle. Hallucinations. Snappish. The dumb-stick. Dancing babies. The penguin. Knee-pit. The first kiss. A woman with a penis. Face-bra. Good Night My Someone. Nose whistle. Teeth. Smile therapy. The hole. Hair. A nine year-old genius midget lawyer. The Biscuit. Pokipsy. Ooga Chaka. Dulcinea. Money. The Fed Ex girl. Pips. Love. Bygones. Five seasons. 112 episodes. Ally McBeal.
There are shows and there are SHOWS. When David E. Kelly sat down to write the tale of a Boston attorney he created one of the most original and memorable characters, and worlds, in television history. The law firm of Cage & Fish isn’t like any workplace we’ve seen before, or since.
The show is centered around absurdity: the absurdity of life, the absurdity of love, and the absurdity of the law. More than any show Ally McBeal embraced the silliness of it all and celebrated it with passion and song. Sure the big law cases you read about it the paper are important, but most of the law practiced is frivolous and, when you get down to it, quite silly. Sure life and love are both painful, but often they’re hilariously funny. In this one-hour dramedy Kelly created a unique cast of characters that populated a world that’s just crazy, and just silly enough, to be real.
“I adore everybody in that room Billy, except Ling, and Nell maybe, and Elaine sometimes when she bugs me, but everybody else, except Ben, and George, well I don’t really know him. But the others, I love ’em. And, I would never admit this, but I even cherish them.”
Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) – The passionate and hopeful heart of the show who believes in true love and happily ever after; she’s just not sure she’ll ever find it. She speaks in run-on sentences because “I’m afraid if I stop for air somebody else will get a word in.” She hallucinates celebrities and dancing babies, and loves with all her heart.
John Cage (Peter MacNicol) – The biscuit; the “funny little man.” John Cage is Ally’s truest friend and soulmate; a terror in a courtroom, with a wily bag of tricks to win even the toughest cases, and something of a clumsy oaf outside one.
Richard Fish (Greg Germann) – The firm’s other partner believes in two things – sex and money. Creating the firm with young lawyers with four purposes in mind money, money, fun, and money, Richard Fish is a sexist who believes women are disabled, asks judges to find for his side because of that “Constitution thingy,” and is often most profound when espousing his beliefs in short nuggets of wisdom called Fishisms.
Elaine Vassal (Jane Krakowski) – Ally’s attention-starved secretary who oozes sexuality and often remarks about just how big of a slut she is. A true friend and one who is happy to perform at anyone’s party so long as the spotlight stays on her.
Billy Thomas (Gil Bellows) – The love of Ally’s life who left her in law school, grew up and married another woman, but still admittedly holds on to his love for Ally.
Georgia Thomas (Courtney Thorne-Smith) – Billy’s husband and Ally’s friend who comes to work for Cage & Fish and is uncomfortable with the relationship between her husband and the former love of his life, and angry that Ally’s involvement in their lives makes Billy a better man and husband to her.
Renee Raddick (Lisa Nicole Carson) – Ally’s longtime friend and roommate works as an assistant District Attorney and gets Ally into, and out of, trouble.
Nell Porter (Portia de Rossi) – The “cold bitch elitist snob” who melts under the touch of John Cage is never as mean or as cold as she pretends to be, except sometimes she is.
Ling Woo (Lucy Liu) – That’s with a soft L! Often bored with both life and sex and perfect shallow soulmate for Richard Fish, Ling is brutally honest and can bring a man to his knees with a simple kiss, and occasionally lets her guard down to show how much she cares.
Mark Albert (James LeGos) – Billy’s replacement isn’t well liked by the office, engages in an occasional pre-trial anthem, has a dentist’s chair in his office, and has a more disasterous love life than Ally.
Vonda Shepard – The bar’s main singer who provides many, though certainly not all, of the show’s musical moments.
Maddie Harrington (Hayden Panettiere) – Ally’s biological daughter who was born from Ally’s egg which was donated for a fertility study years ago and mistakenly used without her permission. She’s as high strung as her mother but without Ally’s tendency to hallucinate.
“If you think back and replay your year, if it doesn’t bring you tears, either of joy or sadness, consider it a year wasted.”
After being sexually harassed and then fired from her firm, Ally McBeal finds herself going to work for a former law school friend Richard Fish. On arriving Ally discovers the love of her life Billy Thomas is working there as well and he’s happily married to a beautiful wife Georgia. Ally makes due with the odd circumstances and begins to reconnect with Billy as friends and find a true friend in the firm’s other partner John Cage. Over her first year at Cage & Fish Ally will prosecute a case on age discrimination, save the life of an overweight attorney (Jay Leggett) and be forced to fight off his advances and give him marital advice, tell a dirty joke at the bar, date a male model (Michael Easton) for his endowment, deal with a recurring hallucination of a dancing baby, meet her new therapist (Tracey Ullman), pick a theme song, team up with Bobby Donell (Dylan McDermott) on a murder case, and defend Renee in an assault case.
Some of the most memorable episodes include:
“The truth is he thinks the biggest tragedy of his life is not spending it with me.”
When a former college professor (Brett Cullen) dies and his widow (Kathy Baker) asks Ally to speak at his funeral, Ally’s craziness goes into overdrive. The problem? An affair between Ally and the dead man which ended only because of his familial obligations. Her need to confide in Billy creates strain on his marriage to Georgia, and begins the end of Ally’s relationship to Cheanie (Tate Donovan).
“You can’t just attack somebody over a snack treat. That’s not a Fishism, that’s just a rule of common sense!”
After Ally is arrested for an altercation in a supermarket, and accidentally shoplifting spermicide, her erratic conduct is brought before the Board of Bar Overseers who have the power to suspend her license to practice law. The firm shows up in force, and although some do more harm than good, in the end Ally stands defiant and triumphant thanks in part to an impassioned plea by Billy.
“Is it possible to love somebody only two days?”
Ally takes on a pro-bono case of a troubled transvestite (Wilson Cruz) who faces serious jail time after a third charge for solicitation. Ally argues temporary insanity and pleads out getting Stephanie a job at Cage & Fish, but in the end can’t save Stephanie from herself. In the other story Fish sues a church for not allowing his uncle’s funeral to include mention of his bigotry against short people. Memorable for many reasons including the choice of song at the funeral, Ally’s devastation at Stephanie’s tragedy, and the real beginning of Ally’s friendship with John Cage.
“If I’m going to second guess myself miserably ever after I want him to, too.”
Season Two brings two new faces to Cage & Fish as Nell Porter and Ling Woo join the firm. Also making his foray into the office is John’s show frog Stefan (who might be the unluckiest amphibian of all time as he gets knocked around, batted, flushed down a toilet and eventually eaten). Cage and Nell begin an awkward on-again off-again courtship, Ally defends a 39 year-old woman (Caitlin Dulany) who had an affair with a 16 year-old boy (Richard Lee Jackson), the firm takes on a shock jock (Wayne Newton), Ally stands up (and gets thrown in jail) for her right to wear her short skirts, and Ally defends a man (Tony Shaloub) who cut-off his wife’s hand. Ally celebrates #29, and John Cage gets a very special guest for his party. Elaine gets sued over her Face-bra and enters a swing dance competetion with Ling. Oh, and Ally and Billy kiss leading to all three of them seeking therapy together from an unlikely and unhelpful source (Rosie O’Donnell).
Some of the most memorable episodes include:
“If we both agree that there’s a better world waiting for us maybe some of it is locked up in her dreams.”
Ally is contacted by a former High School teacher (Eileen Ryan) with a vivid fantasy life who is in the hospital and wants to sue to be put into a coma where she can spend her final days with her imaginary husband and children. The episode also marks the return of Greg Butters (Jesse L. Martin) as a love interest for Ally, and both Nell and Ling shift from recurring guest roles to regular cast with the new opening sequence.
“Not everyone gets to go face-to-face with their angel, you know.”
Ally and Ling, who is revealed to be a lawyer in this episode, sue God on behalf of a terminally ill child (Haley Joel Osmet) while Richard and John take on a client accused of attempted murder. Besides the revelation of Ling the episode is remarkable for several reasons including how easily Ling makes the seemingly idiotic case viable, and it’s the only episode which mentions Ally’s younger sister who died at the age of five. Ally’s confession that she stopped believing in God until the appearance of a blimp shows us a part of her we don’t usual see as well as reveals a different side to Ling. As compelling and emotionally charged episode which is bookended by “Rainbow Connection.”
“Love is wasted on you because you will always be unhappy.”
Ally deals with the guilt over kissing Billy and enlists the help of Tracy in a session that brings out the real reason for the kiss – that Billy is still in love with Ally, and the real reason that he left her and why they can never be together.
“He’s a funny little man. He cross-examined with The Music Man. I like it; he’s fun.”
Cage and Ling go after a Senator whose campaigning put a “dirty” bookshop owner out of business. Ally continues to struggle with the kiss by admitting it to Greg ends the relationship. Her search for help in the church is less than helpful.
“About forty minutes ago Billy Thomas passed away. He went quietly, and peacefully.”
Starting hot and heavy Season Three runs the gamut of emotion beginning with lust in a car wash, to the anger and disappointment of the dissolution of Billy and Georgia’s marriage. Georgia sues the firm over the new Billy, divorces him, and leaves the firm to practice law with Renee. Billy falls for his new secretary (Gina Phillips) and begins showing up to meetings with the “Billy girls.” Cage tries to fulfill Nell’s fantasy of getting spanked (with disastrous results). Ally is serenaded by Al Green and haunted by visions of a young boy asking her to save him. Ally rear-ends a man (Craig Bierko) who she dumps for a horrible laugh, is pursued by a bisexual judge (Mark Feuerstein) who owns a coffee shop, and begins a relationship with a British attorney (Tim Dutton). Elaine finds a baby, Ling defends an elderly man who sees pygmies, Cage defends a quartet even stranger than he is, the firm hires Mark Albert, everyone breaks out into song, and Ally turns 30.
Some of the most memorable episodes include:
“There’s a new man in town.”
Ally has sex inside a car wash with a complete stranger (Jason Gedrick). After convincing a minister with misgivings to perform a client’s wedding Ally becomes a bride’s maid only discover the groom-to-be is her soapy mystery man, and ends up stopping the wedding. Rita Helms (Tracy Middendorf) decides to sue Ally for ruining her wedding causing her to try and put the couple back together, though she still has feelings for Joel (Gedrick). In other stories John Cage searches for Barry White and Billy begins to attend male sensitivity meetings when he discovers some male chauvinist tendencies and bleaches his head becoming the new Billy. And Renee and Whipper open their own law firm.
“Don’t make fun of my fantasy life Mom, you inspired it!”
Thanksgiving isn’t a happy day when the truth comes out as Ally hosts dinner for her parents and friends. Ally learns her father (James Naughton) kissed Georgia, and both parents have had affairs, and blurts out knowing about her mother’s (Jill Clayburgh) affair when she was only 3 years-old. Taking the unhappy couple to Tracey, the truth of her mother’s jealousy of her, and her father’s deep sadness over missing her come to light.
“And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in a world to carry on.”
John Cage finds himself wedged in an elevator which allows Nell to opportunity to break-up with him – to his buttocks. Billy reveals the fact he has a brain tumor to Ally (which leads to the memorable line “I have a brain tumor in my ass!”) and despite his new hallucinations he and Ally continue to try a case until he sits down in court and passes away due to a cerebral hemorrhage. The gang gathers together for a memorial service to celebrate his life and Ally gets her first visitation from his ghost. Keep extra hankies handy for this one!
“I love you. Goodbye.”
The season where Ally finally finds love, and then loses it. Robert Downey Jr. guest stars in the recurring role of Larry Paul a lawyer, who Ally mistakenly takes for a therapist when they first meet, who drives Ally crazy and pushes all the right buttons at the same time and brings his own baggage to the relationship. Love is also in the air for John Cage who dates a woman (Jami Gertz) who brings her mother (Marlo Thomas) on dates with them, and then begins a relationship with a woman with Tourette Syndrome (Anne Heche). Fish and Cage take a trip to L.A. where John finds another love interest (Bernadette Peters) and Richard meets a beautiful young girl (Alexandra Holden) and gets thrown in jail, twice. Ling lusts after the firm’s new attorney Jackson Duper (Taye Diggs) who she once spent a night of passion with. Ally goes to a senior prom, is haunted by Barry Manilow, and hired by Larry’s son (David Dorfman) to sue his parents for emotional distress.
Some of the most memorable episodes include:
“What do you mean these things happen? My girlfriend has a penis! These things don’t happen!”
In this two-parter Ally begins dating a younger (Michael Vartan) and an older man (William Russ) only to discover they are father and son, and is sued by Kimmy (Gertz) for her comment in a restaurant. She hires Larry Paul (Downey) to defend her and discovers he’s the one she really wants to date. Mark begins falling in love with Cindy (Lisa Edelstein) who tells him the truth about her “little secret,” and the firm takes on a case against a singing shrink (Florence Henderson) who teaches women to be more submissive to their husbands.
“I’m still capable of making a lot of mistakes, Ally, but walking away from you is not one of them.”
Larry’s ex-girlfriend, and mother of his son, (Famke Janssen) shows up after hearing how Larry is falling in love, causing Ally to feel threatened. Ling and Richard lip-synch a number at the bar, and Cage and Nell defend Nell’s father in court who was fired from his job as a teacher because he believes he is Santa Claus.
“John, lots of people have trouble dancing with make-believe disco behemoths when there are others present.”
Cage struggles to find Barry White while representing a man who wants to clone his wife. The opposing counsel is Larry who believes Ally can never “not ever” beat her in court. Barry White finally returns as John pulls out all the stops in trying to make Larry uncomfortable in court.
“She has fantasies, she hallucinates. Now some people consider her to be in great need of mental help. I often think she has 100 different personalities, but I never question who she is.”
Season Five is the most tumultuous season of the series as several characters disappear from the show between seasons four and five including Mark Albert, Jackson Duper, Jane, and Renee. In place a whole new group of character is introduced including a younger version of Ally and Billy in Jenny Shaw (Julianne Nicholson) and Glen Foy (James Marsden), the chauvinistic Raymond Milbury (Josh Hopkins) and the conniving Wilson (Bobby Cannavale). The second half of the year focuses on two new arrivals into Ally’s world – a new love interest (Jon Bon Jovi) and a daughter she never knew she had! Regina Hall becomes a regular cast member, and Richard Fish gets a new love interest in Liza “Lolita” Bump (Christina Ricci). John takes time off to play in a Mariachi band. Ally celebrates a happy birthday, makes partner, buys a house, gets to know her daughter, and tearfully says goodbye to everyone at Cage, Fish & McBeal.
Some of the most memorable episodes include:
“You know where I was caught so unprepared? It’s not that she died, but how gone she is. I’ve been standing in that church for 15 years preaching the eternity of our souls, but I’ll tell you – she’s gone. Every day, she’s more gone.”
Ally defends a minister (Tom Berenger) who was fired from his church, after his wife was murdered, because he no longer believes in God. In learning about his family Ally is shocked to find out that Malcolm (Josh Groban) is his son and he hasn’t been able to sing since his mother’s death. Ally brings the two together to begin the healing process. In court John Cage takes on a case against the town of Jackson, Massachusetts who has cancelled public Christmas displays and the parade due to the tragic death of local fireman and the town’s troubled economy. The case hits a nerve in John who sees the spirit of Christmas dying all around him. As he says, “It’s not a year for skipping Christmas.”
“I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
Richard hires match-maker Harriet Plumpell (Nell Carter) to help everyone, especially John, find love. Ally defends a man (Joe Regalbuto) dying of cancer who keeps breaking into his childhood home trying to fly out the window with homemade wings. He chooses Ally for his lawyer because he knows she can fly. And in an odd deja vu moment Ally sniffs Victor’s ass, which she later has to explain.
“How lucky can one guy be. I kissed her and she kissed me. Like the fella once said, ain’t that a kick in the head.”
Ally gets the shock of her life when the daughter she never knew she had shows up on her doorstep. Amy Pietz guest stars as Maddie’s guardian who performs a selection of television tunes at the bar (including the theme of The Mary Tyler Moore Show with the spotlight on Ally). In court Richard first-chairs a murder case with John Cage defending a client who mistakenly took his wife’s head for a soccer ball.
“You’re the soul of this place. In some way you’ve become the soul of all of us and I am afraid of what will happen when you go.”
After her daughter has the equivalent of a nervous breakdown Ally decides to leave Boston and return Maddie to New York. Georgia and Renee return, as does Billy’s ghost, along with Barry White for one last moment at the bar. As Ally says tearful goodbyes to her friends, Richard and Liza get married with the help of a narcoleptic minister (Carl Reiner) who John Cage has to keep waking up during the ceremony. A sad but fitting farewell episode.
After years of only being available for purchase overseas, today, for the first time the entire DVD set is out in the US. Like the Region 2 version, the new set includes every episode and all of the show’s original music. This new 32-disc set also includes new featurettes, a new retrospective of the show, and a “Best of Ally McBeal” soundtrack.
Even in its two weak stretches (the end of Season Three – post-Billy, the beginning of Season Five – pre-Maddie) the show is better than most others at their best. Shows that can make shed tears in sadness and in laughter are rare. Shows that can do it often in the same episode, sometimes even in the same scene, are the rarest of all. They must be treasured. And when Ally McBeal is at its best there is simply no place I’d rather be than down in the bar or up in the offices of Cage & Fish.