[Contains remotely adjustable high-heels and SPOILERS!!!]
The third season of Ally McBeal (1999) seemed a little grimmer than its predecessors, with the untimely demise of a central character and several acrimonious break-ups and betrayals out-weighing the usual wacky antics. Personally, I’d agree with Richard’s offhand assessment that Billy’s erratic personality change (and the brain-tumour that caused it), made him a far more interesting character… while his delusional death in ep # 3.16 (“Boy Next Door”) remains a very moving scene, and one of the dramatic high-points of the series overall. The other major “stand-out” episode of this season, would have to be #3.2 (“Buried Pleasures”), in which Ling (Lucy Liu) and Ally (Calista Flockhart) decide to date each other, and even share a couple of tender kisses, before deciding that they miss “the penis” too much to commit to a lesbianism relationship (apparently they’ve never heard of strap-ons?). There’s a pretty incisive overview of the show’s treatment of lesbianism (and what the author terms “heteroflexiblility”) over at After Ellen… which is kinda fitting, considering that two of Ellen DeGeneres’s real-life partners (Portia de Rossi and Anne Heche) have appeared as major characters on the show… (and both were love-interests for “The Biscuit”, curiously enough!)
The most disappointing/frustrating aspect of this season would have to be the way that we were teased with the prospect of Renée (Lisa Nicole Carson) setting up her own rival law-firm in the first episode, only for it to be largely forgotten about for the rest of the season, except when Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith) needed somewhere to hide from her husband. Dammit! As far as I’m concerned, Carson is one of the most charismatic (and comely) actresses to ever appear on TV, with an incredible singing voice and serious acting chops to boot, so it’s a crying shame that she wasn’t given more scenes, songs, and storylines of her own here.
As for notable guests-stars: Tracy Middendorf appeared in ep #3.1 (“Car Wash”), as ‘Risa Helms’, a young bride-to-be caught cheating with a random hook-up by her family priest, who then refused to marry her. Ally stepped in to mediate on Risa’s behalf, and was invited to be a bridesmaid at the eventual wedding… only to realise that the groom was the same anonymous hunk she’d shagged in a car wash a few days earlier. Of course, Ally felt compelled to stop the ceremony to make everyone aware of this… prompting Risa to call off the wedding, and then return in ep #3.4 (“Heat Wave”) to sue our heroine for ruining her big day! Betty White appeared in ep #3.3 (“Seeing Green”) as ‘Dr. Shirley Flott’, a pill-pushing therapist who desperately tried to get Ally to take medication for her increasingly intense hallucinations… and failed dismally. Nicki Aycox also appeared as ‘Kim Puckett’, a popular girl who wanted to sue a geeky boy for kissing her without consent in the school cafeteria.
Jill Clayburgh appeared in ep #3.5 (“Troubled Water”) as Ally’s mother, ‘Jeannie McBeal’, who was jealous of the close connection that her husband and daughter shared… she then recurred in several subsequent episodes, but was never able to establish much of a bond with Ally, sadly. Scout Taylor-Compton made her TV debut in ep #3.11 (“Over the Rainbow”) playing the younger version of Georgia in a fantasy scene of the show’s cast hanging out together as children, after the elder Georgia decides to sue the firm for contributing to the breakdown of her marriage. Kimberley Davies appeared in ep #3.16 as ‘Angela Prune’, the cosmetically-enhanced wife of a man who married her believing that they shared old-timey values, only to discover on their wedding night that she was not quite as organic as he’d been led to believe. Amanda Donohoe appeared in ep #3.17 (“I Will Survive”) as ‘Marianne Holt’, the mistress of a cheating husband whose wife (Loretta Devine) beat him to death with his own prosthetic leg… and Valerie Mahaffey also featured as ‘Dr. Sally Muggins’, an expert witness for the defence. Cindy Ambuehl appeared in ep #3.18 (“Turning Thirty”) as ‘Lorna Flood’, a buxom trophy-wife accused of murdering her 89-year-old husband by suffocating him with her breasts! [Given a choice, that doesn’t seem like such a bad way to go…]
Holland Taylor appeared in ep #3.19 (“Do You Wanna Dance?”) as ‘Judge Roberta Kittleson’, presiding over Ally’s hearing for (unwitting) statutory rape, after she was caught on a date with a duplicitous 16-year-old boy she met on the internet, by his fretful mother (Mary Chris Wall). Alicia Witt debuted in ep #3.20 (“Hope and Glory”) as ‘Hope Mercey’, a slinky, kinky lawyer-lady who helped Nelle to screw over “Cage & Fish”, while flirting shamelessly with everyone. There were several references to her character harbouring a shocking secret, but it’s been so long since I watched this show I can’t remember what that might be. D’oh! Either way, she was a great addition to the cast… and I really enjoyed Nelle’s sneaky sub-plot, leading up to the belated realisation that she’d made a terrible mistake, and would have to go begging for her job back! Aside from anything else, it gave de Rossi a lot of different moods to play, and her drunk acting in the finale was hilarious stuff. Speaking of which, ep # 3.21 (“Ally McBeal: The Musical, Almost”) also featured a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashback cameo by Dakota Fanning as ‘5 Year Old Ally’.