Ally McBeal (1997 – 2002)
Ally McBeal was a dramedy, before the term had really gained much traction, and when it hit television there was nothing quite like it. It’s probably difficult to fathom for those who weren’t around at the time, but twenty years ago Ally’s particular brand of trippy plot devices and wealth of quirky characters was extremely rare, and the show helped to pave the way for others to colour outside the lines as well.
Set in a Boston law firm, the show’s humour was often edgy, and it relied heavily on surreal fantasy sequences, usually as a way to explore Ally’s feelings and/or fears. This sometimes added new directions that a more traditional episodic format would have been unable to achieve.
Ally herself was one of the most talked about TV characters of the nineties. She was roundly lambasted for setting feminism back several generations and – by extension – Calista Flockhart, who played her, was also criticised for allowing it to happen. In essence there were a whole lot of people who took her far too seriously. I didn’t view her that way at all… but of course, being a guy in my early twenties, I was not the target demographic of either the show or the criticism.
Ally McBeal had a truly ensemble cast, and every character was memorable, unique, and ripe with soundbites and quotable lines. Although the show was ultimately about Ally and her relationships with her friends and co-workers, the dialogue was so sharp and each character had been built so well, that the show ticked over effortlessly even when she wasn’t on screen.
And of course, as any fan knows, John Cage is one of the best TV characters ever. A walking neurosis, he was often the best thing about any scene in which he appeared, and his back and forths with business partner Richard Fish was so good, it’s a crime those two never spawned a spin-off.
Ally McBeal was even (at least partly) responsible for bringing Robert Downey Jr back into the limelight, so even the mighty Iron Man owes Ally a debt of gratitude.