1 9 9 7 – 2 0 0 2 (USA)
112 x 45 minute episodes
Young lawyer and Harvard Law School graduate Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) joins a small Boston law firm called Cage, Fish & Associates and finds that her ex-boyfriend Billy Thomas (Gil Bellows) – now married to beautiful attorney Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith) – also works there as their star litigator.
In addition to Ally (short for Allison), other regular characters in the series included Ally’s assistant, the brassy, outspoken Elaine Vassal (Jane Krakowski); Renee Raddick (Lisa Nicole Carson) the deputy District Attorney and Ally’s down-to-earth roommate; old college friend Richard “the shark” Fish (Greg Germann) who was money-mad and hired Ally; and John “the biscuit” Cage (Peter MacNicol), the strange senior partner at the firm with a penchant for Barry White.
During the first season, Richard was dating older lady judge “Whipper” Cone (Dyan Cannon) but she broke off the relationship early in 1998 because he became obsessed with other women’s “neck wattles” – the loose skin under the chin.
During the second season, he moved on to Ling Woo (Lucy Liu), an aggressive and self-centred Asian American attorney who he eventually hired as an associate in the firm
Ally dated Greg (Jesse L Martin), an African-American physician, then almost got back together with Billy until she learned during a session with her shrink Dr Clark (Tracey Ullman) that he didn’t really respect her.
In 1999, Whipper resigned as judge and went into private practice with Renee. They were soon joined by Georgia, who divorced Billy when she found him in his office kissing a client (Farrah Fawcett).
Billy went off the deep end, hiring a succession of sultry women to accompany him around and then dating his sexy 25-year-old assistant, Sandy (Gina Philips).
In March 2000 he discovered he had a brain tumour, and the following week he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while in court and died – although his ghost showed up sporadically to give Ally advice.
Ling broke up with Richard and Nell (Portia de Rossi) left John and the firm to start her own practice, attempting to steal Elaine in the process. Nell’s new venture foundered when her underhanded methods were discovered, and Elaine testified against her in a hearing about her violation of legal ethics. Nell was soon back at Cage/Fish.
In the 2000/2001 season Ally found new love with handsome attorney Larry Paul (Robert Downey Jr) while loyal Elaine dated Mark and John got involved with Melanie (Anne Heche), a client suffering from Tourette’s syndrome.
None of these affairs ended well. Mark was gone by the end of the season, and John and Melanie broke up after she turned down his marriage proposal. Ally’s rocky relationship with Larry ended when he moved to Detroit to help raise his son from a former marriage.
A new hunk on the scene was black attorney Jackson Duper (Taye Diggs), who ricocheted between Ling and Renee.
The final season saw several new attorneys join the firm including Jenny Shaw (Julianne Nicholson) who brought with her a class-action lawsuit involving 72,000 plaintiffs, Jenny’s ex-boyfriend Glenn (James Marsden), Glenn’s friend Raymond (Josh Hopkins), and Larry’s former partner, Coretta (Regina Hall).
Ally engineered a reconciliation between Jenny and Glenn but her own love life remained empty until she fell for Victor (Jon Bon Jovi), the contractor sent to fix an electrical problem in her new brownstone.
Then, in the spring, 10-year-old Maddie (Hayden Panettiere) arrived. She was the product of Ally’s egg donation to a fertility program when she was in college. After initial shock and misgivings, Ally decided to take temporary custody of her orphaned “daughter”.
The following Week, Richard Fish told the firm that John Cage was cutting back on his workload and would no longer be a name partner. He made Ally a name partner and the firm became Cage & McBeal.
Meanwhile, Ling left the firm when she received a judicial appointment and then an offer to star in a syndicated TV show.
As the series came to a close, Richard and Nell were struggling with a tough case in which the opposing counsel, Liza (Christina Ricci), was a sexy 21-year-old with a Lolita-like personality.
Richard begged John, who was playing in a mariachi band at a Mexican restaurant, to take the case. John won the case, hired Liza as a new associate and gave her his office. On her first day, she informed that firm that she had hired Wilson Jade (Bobby Cannavale), an effective but totally unprincipled litigator, as an associate.
Ally broke up with Victor the electrician, while Richard fell in love with Liza.
In the final episode, Richard and Liza were married and Ally resigned from the firm to move to New York with emotionally troubled Maddie. At the post-wedding party Ally bid a tearful farewell to her co-workers and friends – including Billy’s spirit,
One of the show’s features was that Ally’s fantasy life was either learned through a voice-over narrative or in very innovative fantasy sequences such as Ally dancing with an Internet-created tiny ‘virtual’ baby to the song, Hooked On A Feeling.
Cartoon elements were also used, such as Ally’s foot forcing its way into her mouth when she dropped a clanger or arrows pounding into her heart when she was rejected in love.
Her vibrant imagination came to life, too, such as in scenes where she romped naked with her ex-boyfriend in a mug of cappuccino . . .
Singer Vonda Shepard was heard throughout the series singing songs that emphasised certain aspects of the storyline. She also sang the theme tune, Searching My Soul.
Ally McBeal was the US hit of 1997/1998 and won several Emmy Awards in its early years, but its popularity quickly waned, leading to cancellation. The show turned unknown actress Calista Flockhart into a superstar and thrust her into the limelight as a style guru.
Her character’s comfortable pyjamas became the rage at American department stores, her hemlines were attacked by puritans for being much too short, and her ultra-slim figure brought concern for the way it ‘promoted’ the thin look among impressionable girls.
Allison Marie ‘Ally’ McBeal
Richard ‘the shark’ Fish
Lisa Nicole Carson
John ‘the biscuit’ Cage
Jennifer ‘Whipper’ Cone
Portia de Rossi
Dr Greg Butters
Jesse L Martin
Dr Tracy Clark
Robert Downey Jr
Jon Bon Jovi
Liza ‘Lolita’ Bump