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'Ally McBeal': Rewind or reject?

Netflix. It’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Remember the days when you’d hear a song on the radio that you hadn’t heard since you were a teenager and your mind was instantly flooded with memories that made you weak? Then the MP3 player came along and you could listen to all those songs whenever you wanted to, and suddenly the impact wasn’t as great; many of those memories got watered down with the oversaturation of availability.

Netflix is a lot like that. We all have TV shows in our memory that defined a certain time in our lives. Now that many of them are readily available to binge-watch on Netflix, there’s a definite risk that the significance these shows have in our memory banks will become less powerful … or maybe not.

If you could rewatch an old favorite, would it live up to the hype? Or is the enthusiasm you’ve placed on a specific show simply a direct correlation to a meaningful, bygone time in your life, and best kept tucked away in the archives of your brain—you know, with the jellies, banana clips, and acid-wash denim?

I decided to test this theory and put Ally McBeal on the stand. This dramedy aired on FOX from 1997 to 2002; it was a little bit about the law and a lot about love, friendship, and a bizarre dancing baby (that creeps me out to this day).

Ally McBeal dancing with the CGI baby

After rewatching the premiere (all seasons are available to stream on Netflix), I was reminded of the good, the bad, and the downright random that made up Ally McBeal. Let’s investigate to see whether it’s a show worth rewinding … or rejecting.

Overview: If, like me, your group of friends in 1997 suddenly exceeded the gang at Central Perk and grew to include the savvy bunch at Cage and Fish, Ally McBeal instantly became a love-it-or-hate-it-show when it premiered. It had eccentric gags, fantasy blips, and, of course, star Calista Flockhart, who was (and still is) polarizing for many in and of herself. (But really, which side of the Flockhart fence are you on?) Created by David E. Kelley and set in a Boston law firm, the show was part drama, part comedy, and pure fun.

The cast: Calista Flockhart isn’t the only actor this show put on the map. With a virtually unknown Jane Krakowski absolutely killing it as the know-it-all office assistant Elaine Vassal, and Greg Germann and Peter MacNicol doing the same as Richard Fish and John Cage (the owners of the law firm), the rest of the cast could basically have just phoned it in, and they’d have had the same success. (The show won Golden Globes in both 1997 and 1998.)

The strange thing is, to say that Ally was never my favorite character would be an understatement. As much as I loved the show, I was never a big fan of its moppet-like, whiny namesake. Watching the premiere reminded me of the slight irritation I always felt toward her (which would be a feeling I’d have through all five seasons of Brothers and Sisters a few years later).

I’ll also add Courtney Thorne-Smith’s snoringly boring Georgia to the list of “meh” characters. But the enigmatic Lisa Nicole Carson as Ally’s roommate, Renee, plus the fabulous addition of Portia de Rossi’s Nelle Porter and Lucy Liu’s snarky Ling Woo in season two, meant that the majority of this cast was stellar. (If you notice I didn’t mention Gil Bellows, it’s because I found Billy to be brutally boring and unappealing—then and now. And don’t even get me started on those questionable season one bangs and the season three hair-dye fiasco.)


The good: The chemistry between the cast members—regardless of the characters you loved or hated—was more than just good; it was fun. From Richard’s hilarious, nonsensical “Fish-isms” (“Love: It’s an unsafe bridge. The only thing you can really take to the bank? Money. Make enough money, everything will follow. Quote me. It’s a Fish-ism”) to John Cage’s gymnastic dismounts around the office to all the awkward yet awesome scenes in the famous unisex bathroom, the show was different (to say the least).

Another big positive was the running soundtrack by Vonda Shepard (at least for the first few seasons), as well as her frequent performances in the piano bar the group hung out at. Not only was Vonda a secondary character, but her music became one as well. (Her version of “I Only Want to Be with You” became my go-to bedtime song for my daughters for years.)

The bad (other than Billys aforementioned hair): While I was a huge fan of Ally McBeal for the first few seasons, I didn’t even watch the last two. When I recently tried to remember why, I attributed it to the exhaustion of having a toddler in 2000 and not having enough time. But after watching the series premiere (Ally’s boobs—and Elaine’s head—inflated! Ally’s heart was pierced by arrows! Ally shrank to the size of a doll! Ally got flattened by a wrecking ball!) I remembered that that wasn’t the case at all. Because while at first the running gags and fantasy sequences that Ally McBeal is known for are amusing and clever, they got old. They got old really fast.

Ally McBeal flattened by a wrecking ball episode one

The verdict: While it might be fun to watch an episode here and there, I think I’ll pass on binge-watching the entire series again, and keep the fond memories tucked away in my archives (although I can’t promise I won’t unearth my Vonda Shepard CDs … or that I haven’t already). I fear a second go-around of the constant quirkiness and gags would ruin the fun memories I have of the few years I spent with the gang at Cage and Fish. However, since I did stop watching before Robert Downey, Jr. appeared as Ally’s boyfriend, I might have to make an exception and watch season four. For RDJ, I’ll even endure that damn dancing baby.

CGI GIF of dancing baby

Were you an Ally McBeal fan or foe? And honestly, what did you really think of Billy’s hair? 

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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