Ally McBeal: Season 1
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All 23 episodes from Season 1 on 6 discs – on DVD for the first time ever.
Ally McBeal, Calista Flockhart, and Vonda Shepard fans are finally being given the entire first season of the groundbreaking, and wildly entertaining, show--all 23 episodes and original music collected and presented as originally broadcast. What a treat! David E. Kelley presents a legal series set in Boston (two of his favorite subjects) with a believable heroine reportedly loosely based on his lovely actress wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. As played by Flockhart, Ally is an intellectual, a brilliant legal mind--and one of the most neurotic young heroines ever to grace TV screens. It's not that Ally isn't confident--given a thorny legal issue or complex case, she's one of the best. But Ally's rocky love life, and vivid imaginations that materialize right in the middle of a scene, make her believable, slightly annoying, and altogether endearing.
Ally McBeal rocketed Flockhart to stardom when it first aired in 1997, and rightly so. Her Ally is nervous, hard on herself, yearning, vulnerable, a girl's girl still secretly (and not so secretly) hoping for Mr. Right. As a young associate at the law firm of Cage & Fish (Peter MacNicol and Greg Germann), Ally has to navigate around working with her first true love, Billy Campbell (Gil Bellows), who's now married to yet another associate, Georgia Thomas (Courtney Thorne-Smith). The entire cast throw themselves into their comic/serious/absurd roles and stemwinders--many of which take place in the now-infamous single-sex restroom.
Ally McBeal also launched the careers of Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels), and Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development). Additionally, it shone the spotlight on a crazy-talented singer-songwriter named Vonda Shepard, whose music provides the theme song ("Searchin' My Soul") and who anchors most of the episodes as a local bar singer reinterpreting '60s soul through a late-'90s prism--brilliantly. The boxed set has not only every episode, but every memorable Shepherd song from the first season for the true fan. Bring on the dancing babies! --A.T. Hurley
Stills from Ally McBeal: The Complete First Season (Click for larger image)
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But by episode 5 or the show and the character finds it's stride. If it doesn't quite measure up to the best 'grown up' TV of today, it deserves praise for being one of the series that broke the mold of what a TV show was supposed to be like.
It had an openness to complicated tones that seamlessly mixed wild, sometimes surreal humor, more subtle humor and drama, to long story arcs and not easily solved once a week problems, and to being more about character than event, making TV a more novelistic and sometimes cinematic medium in the process.
Certainly Ally McBeal wasn't the first show to do any of these things, but it was one of the first shows that was a big success with these new approaches, and that helped paved the way for many of the best dramas dramadies and comedies on American TV in the years since.
I'll admit, with years of even braver shows since, Ally McBeal no longer feels quite as unique. Especially with DVDs allowing more than once a week viewing, a certain sameness to Ally's constantly fearful, broken heart and her funny/sad attempts to overcome it starts to be more apparent.
But there's still a lot to enjoy here. The performances are terrific from top to bottom, and every 'silly' character is given their serious and moving moments, and every 'serious' character is allowed to be laugh-out-loud funny at times. Special mention has to be made of Peter MacNichol's 'The Biscuit', one of the oddest, funniest characters in any series in memory.
The writing is sharp and full of wit and pathos. The music is integrated in a way that was rare for TV before, but much imitated since, with montages to songs played and sung by Vonda Shepard (a great voce) who often also appears in the series as a singer at the lead characters favorite after
hours watering hole.
Perhaps some of that music now feels, in retrospect, too on the nose. The songs chosen (or written) almost always have lyrics that are spot on, too obvious a commentary on the action, That good and bad side to the music sort of sums up my perspective on the series looking at it again in 2011. I appreciate and admire it for what it gave us and TV, I still enjoy it, but I'm no longer just blown away by it ' not in a world of Breaking Bad,
Weeds, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, Arrested Development, etc. etc.