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Sunday 18 September 2011


"The truth is, I probably don't want to be too happy or content, 'cause then what? I actually like the quest, the search. That's the fun. The more lost you are, the more you have to look forward to. What do you know? I'm having a great time and I don't even know it."
-Ally McBeal

This show is in my heart. Completely and utterly. I loved every moment of it. I still watch it regularly.

I think it happens for most people, they get a core group of TV shows that stick with them for life. You start out thinking you're being entertained but soon realise it's something more -- you're finding something that resonates with who you are and what your life is about.

The characters in Ally McBeal prioritized their relationships. And they navigated through them by following their instincts, their dreams and their inner lives. Decisions were made from the heart, with the warm support of close friends. I responded to that.

I feel marginalized from so many of my directing peers and fellow bloggers, because most people are so exact about what makes a show good. They could provide data and statistics which explain why one TV show is better than the other. I can't do that, I don't have that skill.

I've been wanting to write an article about my love for 'Ally Mcbeal' ever since I started the blog. But I could never find the words, or the justification. But it's not about justification, it's about being yourself and trusting what is meaningful to you.

Throw on an old episode of Ally McBeal and I'll be instantly satisfied and happy, in a complete flow state, fully engaged in the world David E. Kelley created. I think that John Cage (Peter MacNicol) and Richard Fish (Greg Germann) are the funniest television characters ever created. You can say "don't be ridiculous" and name 100 funnier characters and you'd be right. But not to me. Cage and Fish still have me in hysterics all these years later.

That's what reviewers and critics never get, how personal our tastes are. My favourite films, TV shows and characters are shaped by my life; my upbringing, my friends, the media I was exposed to as a kid, the things I found funny, the books I've read, the places I've been. Who cares who wins the official prizes? It means nothing if the heart doesn't agree.

My heart is fully in love with 'Ally McBeal'. The Romanticism. The outrageously crazy humour. The relationships. They all speak to me. I talk about the dialogue of Billy Wilder and Aaron Sorkin almost daily -- but David E. Kelley has probably been an even bigger influence on me.

I love the music. I love the idea that after work everyone goes downstairs to the bar, where there's a woman playing fabulous music every night. I want that. The music was a key part of the show. Vonda Shepard singing beautiful renditions of Motown classics. John Cage listening to Barry White, and BECOMING Barry White so that he could be confident around women. Or the heartbreaking moment when Larry Paul (Robert Downey Jr) sings Joni Mitchell's 'River', without realising Ally is listening.

At first glance, the title character, Ally, is just annoying and narcissistic. That's how so many of the great characters are at first glance (Alvy Singer, David Brent, etc). Ally went much deeper. She was written masterfully and portrayed perfectly by Calista Flockhart. Here's a character who is a top lawyer at a Boston law form, but she spends most of her time daydreaming about love while fighting off imaginary dancing babies while hallucinating about Al Green. How many actors could pull that off? This was Calista's masterpiece.

As I watch the show now I am increasingly aware of how intelligent it was. I just watched an episode where John Cage is defending a woman accused of sexual harassment. At the end of the episode Cage gives a rousing speech about how the laws were made to help women and not men, because they have been oppressed by men for hundreds of years, not the other way around. It's a poignant moment, full of awareness about male privilege and its role in shaping society. Elsewhere in the same episode, a transsexual client is in court fighting her employer for her right to not disclose information about herself.

When I was younger, I'd just enjoy the entertainment. Now I can see the extra layers. For example in that episode, like so many of them, it brought gender and our experience of it in society to the centre. The show was braver than people realised.

The humour undoubtedly seeped into me, as did the style of dialogue, but now I can see everything else did too. I care about the things the characters cared about. This show did have an impact on who I became.

If you haven't seen 'Ally McBeal' I'm not going to insist you see it. The years have flown by and we're all so different. Just know that if you like my writing, it's probably, in some hard to explain way, greatly influenced by Ally McBeal.


  1. The quote you put at the beginning is my favourite. She's certainly not perfect but I love Ally xx.

  2. I have been thinking about Ally McBeal lately as well and hope to re-watch some of the episodes. Love the quote at the top - it is so perfect!
    -Denise (not sure what is up with blogger and not letting me leave comments!)

  3. I used to watch Ally McBeal but was never a real big fan. Boston Legal however; now THERE'S a brilliant show. David E Kelley really is a genius.

  4. I LOVED Ally McBeal. I seriously cried when Billy was diagnosed. Also? I still say "bygones" like once a day.

  5. Ally was THE BEST show! I can't believe tennysoneehemingway didn't like it (or anyone else for that matter!). I'm gonna go watch an episode right now.

  6. Thanks for posting this - you just reminded me of some of my favourite moments in the show that I had long since forgotten. I agree on Cafe and Fish - they're by far one the funniest (and most underrated) comedy duos that have been on TV. I still remember being ridiculously excited when Billy rocked up with his new hair and the women on either side. And the entire Georgia-Billy-Ally plotline resonated with me so much even though I was so young. Great post.

    I'm also really glad we still have Elaine on our screens in 30 Rock, otherwise I'd be completely bummed.

  7. Ally McBeal forever ;)
    Thanks for your coment, I hope you like the next post.
    I find so interesting the stuff you write on this blog!

  8. I love the show, I'm actually rewatching entire series right now. It's a shame things got so bad in season 5 the only scese worth watching were the ones with Fish and Cage, I agree they are incredibly funny. My favorites episodes are when either Cage or Fish are in court and "Civil War" when they are up against each other is just hilarious.

  9. I just fell into this post because of a link from your last one. I LOVED every minute of Ally McBeal and I've missed it. I really can't remember a show that was as important to me, the characters and the music and the fun. Fish and Cage...funnier than shit! And I was in love with Ally's quirks.

    One of my favorite periods of this show was when Ally was with Larry (which ended for them around Christmas time, I believe). I remember him singing that song.

    Everything about this show just sucked me in. I wanted to work with them, be their friend and live in their world. Weird, I know.

    Sorry for the longish comment and thank you for bringing back this memory. Me thinks I'll have to do an Ally McBeal rewatch marathon this summer.

  10. It's so under-rated. It helped to shape who I am too, from what I chose to study at uni (law) to my general morals and ideals. But most importantly, it helped me through many typical Ally problems. What a show! Funny, intelligent and at times incredibly poignant.

    Oh, and John Cage will always be my hero.

    Glad there are others out there who haven't forgotten.

    @FilipinoDan on twitter