So, weird story: In fifth grade, I was obsessed with “Ally McBeal,” which is not a kid’s show, to say the least. My parents loved it, and because I could never sleep at night, they allowed me to watch the program with them, hoping I’d be more willing to go to bed afterward. I never was, though. The “Ally McBeal” plot kept me thinking for hours every Sunday.
The 90s TV drama follows the professional and personal life of tireless lawyer Ally McBeal, a lonely modern working woman who has never fully recovered from breaking up with her childhood sweetheart Billy in law school. You wouldn’t think a 10-year-old would love a story line about a law firm and heartbreak, but I did, perhaps because I could tell even then that I would be a lot like Ally early in my career: driven, power and success-hungry, unlucky with relationships, in love with big cities and going out with friends, and both secretly jealous of and sad for people who’ve settled down. I didn’t realize then that Ally McBeal was somewhat of a feminist character, and I’m glad I grew up watching strong female leads on TV.
That said, I recently re-watched some of the show’s episodes on Netflix and am surprised I loved it so much back in the day. My only explanation is that I was ten years old. How great could my taste have been? Though soft and accessible, the program doesn’t have impressive dialogue or very much chemistry among its characters. At one point in season one, Ally says, “You don’t kiss on the first date.” Now we say it’s taboo to have sex on the first date, and I know adults of the 90s weren’t just a bunch of prudes. Ally’s character isn’t, either. More than anything, it wouldn’t survive in today’s TV lineup, as it lacks the weirdness and drama that the current crop of successful shows have. Look at the kind of programs that are doing well right now: “Scandal,” “Revenge,” “Mad Men,” etc., and all those shows don’t hold back or skimp on drama. There’s an unexpected death at the end of “Ally McBeal,” but most of the turmoil surrounds Ally and Billy. Even that feels boring, and the same goes for Ally’s complicated dynamic with his rightfully suspicious wife Georgia.
Fifth grade me knew a character like Ally was awesome, but I wasn’t grown up enough to question the show’s structure. What I especially dislike now are the scenes Ally imagines in her head when she’s upset. We cut right over to a false reaction, which can catch you off guard and in my opinion brings down the quality of the show. The returning singer felt a little out of place too, and I doubt all of this would be well-received in 2013.
So, “Ally McBeal,” I’ll continue falling asleep to you late at night when I’m feeling bad about something trivial, because that’s really what you’re good at highlighting.