[Contains cunningly-deployed nose-whistles and SPOILERS!!!]
In an effort to declutter my room, I’ve set about trying to weed out the dead weight in my DVD collection… which is how I came to rewatch the first season of Ally McBeal (1997), for something like the third or fourth time. I’ve already written a general post about the series and its contentious status in pop-culture, and I don’t have much to add to that here… except for a few observations about this specific season.
First off, to paraphrase Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, the worst thing about crushing on fictional characters is that you get keep getting old and they just stay the same age forever. When I first watched the show as a teen, ‘Ally’ and her associates were a decade or so older than me, and represented something like an aspirational ideal… now they’re a decade or so younger than me, and simply remind me of how little I’ve achieved to date! So, I have a very different perspective on all the fretting Ally does over the prospect of turning 30 here… my new perspective being “Shut up and enjoy what you have, you idiot!” Ah well… Calista Flockhart is still utterly adorable in the role, and fully deserved the Golden Globe she received for her work in this season. Whatever the faults of the character, Flockhart gives a fully-formed and multi-faceted performance… and her care-free dancing is a joy to behold. Bless. Meanwhile, when ‘Elaine’ talked about using her sexuality to win favours, I couldn’t help thinking of the similarities between the characters that Jane Krakowski plays here and in 30 Rock (slightly desperate attention-seekers, who break into song at the drop of a hat)… though I was glad to see Elaine get some more serious scenes in later episodes, because she really can be quite a tearjerker when she needs to be!
As for the guest stars: Brooke Burns debuted in ep #1.6 (“The Promise”) as ‘Jennifer Higgin’, a comely office worker all the men ogled and objectified… until Elaine organised a revolt in ep #1.8 (“Drawing the Lines”), and threatened a mass walk-out if Jennifer waisn’t sacked, backed up by an opportunistic lawyer named ‘Caroline Poop’, played by Sandra Bernhard… who then returned in ep #1.9 (“The Dirty Joke”), representing Jennifer in her suit against the company for sexual harassment (specifically the way she was treated by Elaine and her allies, when Poop was on the other side of the dispute)! Wilson Cruz appeared in ep #1.10 (“Boy To The World”) as ‘Stephanie Grant’, a transgender seamstress who is forced to turns tricks to make rent. Aside from the prostitution angle and her inexplicable death at the end of the episode, the way Stephanie was presented in this episode, and the way the other characters cheerfully accepted her, was actually pretty ahead-of-its-time… and the office’s unisex would have eliminated a lot of the issues that many transgender people face when deciding which toilet door to walk through. So, it’s really a shame she couldn’t be absorbed into the show’s full-time supporting cast… or at least recur in a couple episodes…
Tracey Ullman debuted in ep #1.17 (“Theme of Life”) as Ally’s eccentric therapist ‘Dr. Tracey Clark’, and made a strong impression right from the get-go, even though she only appeared in two actual episodes this season. Harriet Sansom Harris appeared in ep #1.19 (“Happy Birthday Baby”) as ‘Cheryl Bonner’, the disgruntled date of a foot fetishist who “broke” into her house at night to tickle her tootsies (technically her door was unlocked, and he perceived this as a sign of encouragement). Erica Dickerson appeared in ep #1.21 (“Being There”) as ‘Young Renee’, the harassed teenage version of Lisa Nicole Carson’s character, in her strongest and most heartfelt episode of the season (and possibly the series). Cynthia Stevenson appeared in ep #1.22 (“Alone Again”) as ‘Hayley Chisolm’, an old unrequited college crush of ‘John Cage’s, who had just as many quirks and courtroom tricks up her sleeve as he does! They were totally made for each other, of course, and Stevenson played the part brilliantly, but sadly this was her one and only cameo on the show. The same ep also featured McNally Sagal as ‘Mary Halliday’, a jilted bride who was so repulsed by the nonsense that ‘Richard Fish’ was spouting in her defence that she ended up dropping the suit against her ex-fiancé!
Sad fact: Ep #1.20 (“The Inmates”) was the first part of a two-part crossover with The Practice, a pre-existing legal drama starring Dylan McDermott (among others), but I’ve no idea how the case turned out because it was resolved on the other show. Pesky!