The FOX television series Ally McBeal premiered in 1997 and ran until 2002. During the late 1990s, it gathered a strong audience of mostly young professional female viewers. Starring Calista Flockhart (1964–) in the title role, the show was set in the Boston, Massachusetts, law firm of Cage and Fish. Ally McBeal was among a team of dynamic young lawyers taking on cases too risky or too controversial for other firms to touch. Nevertheless, the real subject of the show was Ally and her worries about work, men, motherhood, and growing old. Ally McBeal enjoyed money, status, and designer clothes, but she longed for the simplicity of childhood.
Ally McBeal was created by David E. Kelley (1956–), the producer responsible for hospital drama Chicago Hope (1994–2000) and the darker legal serial The Practice (1997–). Ally McBeal quickly became well known for its up-to-date take on young working women and the problems they faced. Ally's respectable, well-paid career contrasted with her strange fantasy life. Using computer-generated images, Ally's thoughts and fantasies appeared on screen. Her desire for motherhood took the form of dancing babies. People took on distorted and bizarre shapes according to what Ally thought of them. The show also
poked fun at fashionable office life. There was a unisex bathroom where the lawyers and staff exchanged gossip. The firm specialized in fighting bizarre discrimination cases not for ethical reasons but because they paid well. The yuppie (see entry under 1980s—The Way We Lived in volume 5) dream of working life being just like college, but with more money, was gently mocked in every episode.
Ally McBeal may have struck a chord with viewers when it first appeared, but many critics were less impressed. The show seemed to strike a blow for professional women everywhere, as the miniskirted women in the Cage and Fish office often seemed most interested in getting married and having children. Because Ally McBeal was seen as a role model for young women, critics worried that Flockhart's stick-thin appearance might encourage eating disorders. As an attempt to represent the lives of professional women at the turn of the twenty-first century, Ally McBeal provided at best an incomplete picture. As a popular lightweight comedy of modern manners, the show was a huge success.
For More Information
Ally McBeal.http://www.allymcbeal.com (accessed April 4, 2002).
Appelo, Tim. Ally McBeal: The Official Guide. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.
Levine, Josh. David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. Toronto: E. C. W. Press, 1999.