It seems hard to remember all the way back to 1997, but Ally McBeal was a pretty big deal when it premiered nearly 20 years ago. Another jewel in David E. Kelley’s crown (other gems include The Practice, which I still unabashedly love), Ally McBeal launched the careers of Calista Flockhart, Lucy Liu, Portia de Rossi, Jane Krakowski, and Josh Groban, as well as revived Robert Downey Jr.’s faltering one. But how well does the pilot hold up in 2016?
The show had fairly decent reviews when it first
began, but some argued the show wasn't feminist. I fully disagree with this: Ally made
the decision to stay at Harvard while Billy jetted off to school in Michigan.
Isn’t choosing your own career and wellbeing over a man a step in the right
direction? When she was sexually harassed in the first episode, she
stood up for herself. Ally didn’t take it lying down: She brought up a lawsuit
to her bosses.
That being said, Ally McBeal doesn’t really translate to today’s television landscape. Here’s what I noticed when I watched the pilot episode one more time.
1. The Clothes Are Incredibly Dated
Granted, you can’t do much for a woman’s suit to
make it feel modern (just ask poor Hilary Clinton), but the men’s suits? Good
lord. They are ill fitting and huge. They come up to the male characters
nipples, and in relation to today’s menswear they feel as big as zoot suits.
The shorts are also pretty short for a professional workplace, but it’s nothing
I haven’t seen walking down the street. The lipstick is also super ‘90s.
2. The Vocabulary Is On Point
Richard uses the word “avuncular” (Merriam-Webster
definition: of or relating to an uncle) in the first episode, so you know the
vocab lessons are going to happen every week. David E. Kelley is second only to
Aaron Sorkin when it comes to soaring speeches and 25-cent words, so you knew
you’d have some big Scrabble winners in this set. Also, they’re lawyers, so
they should know these words, right?
3. The Show Literally Start With Butt Sniffing
Ally’s voiceover at beginning talks about how she
and Billy sniffed each other’s butts when they were kids because they saw dogs
doing it and they thought it was normal. This was a years-prior prelude to
their eventual first kiss. What is this? I know David E. Kelley has a warped
sense of humor (more on that later), but this is too weird.
4. The Sexual Harassment Storyline Could Never Happen Today
Ally leaves the firm she’s at because she’s being
sexually harassed by a coworker, which is totally real and relevant and all
that, but it just wouldn’t hold the same gravity in today’s world. Of course
people still get sexually harassed, but it’s not as mind-boggling or confusing
anymore. And the defense of the sexual harasser that he has an Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder in which he has to squeeze butts would never get green-lit
by any network at all. Not even Amazon or Netflix.
5. The Fantasy Sequences Are Really Weird
It is through the weird fantasy asides that Ally McBeal was way ahead of its peers.
I can’t even think of another show that did that, can you? That being said, the
computer graphics are totally awful, but that’s because I have an HDTV and no
one is supposed to see Calista Flockhart’s breasts grow in such detail anyway.
6. “Bygones!” Should Be A Thing
Richard, Ally’s boss, had many a catchphrase, and
“Bygones” was one of them. I think we should bring it back. It was kind of
zeitgeisty at the time, and I think we’re due for a new trend. It could be the
new “Bye, Felicia.”
7. Billy Sucks
I think we were supposed to root for him and Ally
to get together (even though he was married to the perfectly nice and pretty
Georgia, played by Courtney Thorne-Smith), but, nah. Forget that. Billy lied to
his wife about his relationship with Ally. He didn’t tell Ally he was married
at first, and then he revealed person details about his wife to Ally to make
her feel better? Not cool, dude. All of the women are so much better off
without this douche around. Also, his Caesar haircut is terrible.
Ally McBeal is a show I’ve lived without for a long time, but suddenly I’m tempted to watch the whole series again. Sometimes, a show is just a classic, and this is certainly one of those shows.
Images: Screengrab/FOX; Giphy (7)