Written by Diane Tillis
I’ve come to learn that you either love the 1997 – 2002 American drama-comedy series Ally McBeal, or you loathe it.
For its time, Ally McBeal was an unusual show. It mixed comedy, drama, law, and a unisex bathroom to create a quirky television series. Ally McBeal is unapologetic for representing the insane, ridiculous, and crazy situations the characters get into, and how they get out of them. It focuses on the romantic and personal lives of several characters who work in a Boston law firm. Calista Flockhart as Ally McBeal is a young lawyer in the Cage & Fish firm whose witty and slightly neurotic behavior catches the attention of everyone she meets. Ally is surrounded by other equally eccentric characters such as Greg Germann as Richard Fish, Peter MacNicol as John Cage, Jane Krakowski as Elaine Vassal, Lisa Nicole Carson as Renée Raddick, Gil Bellows as Billy Thomas, Portia de Rossi as Nelle Porter and Lucy Liu as Ling Woo.
In 2009, distributor 20th Century Fox released the entire series in one bulk collection along with Season 1 and 2 in individual season collections. Flash forward a year after these releases; fans finally get the chance to finish their collection if they bought the individual season sets with the release of Seasons 3, 4, and 5 on DVD. If you are a fan of the show, this is a great way to collect the series in nicely-packaged sets.
Each episode chronicles the characters as they encounter life’s crazy situations related to love, work, and friendship around the Cage & Fish law firm. Ally was a 20-something, single woman, and an attorney in a man’s world. She was able to resonate with many other women in similar situations. Ally’s unconventional personality made her stand out. Her tendency to hallucinate dancing babies made her comical. These hallucinations are manifestations of Ally’s daydreams brought to life through computer effects. Ally is surrounded with equally eccentric characters at home and at work. Elaine is Ally’s nosy and gossiping secretary. John is an oddball lawyer, but works hard to never lose a case. Renee is Ally’s house-mate and a constant source of advice. Billy was once Ally’s boyfriend, but the couple split while they were in law school. Ally’s work relationship with Billy is frequently tested and a source of tension in her life.
The legal work of Cage & Fish is less about representing clients in disputes and more about giving the characters a reason to be in the same room with each other. The law firm becomes a device that the writer uses to enforce the characters’ drama. For instance in the second episode of Season 3, the firm is representing a woman against a sexual harassment suit, while Ally is feeling sexually harassed by Ling in the office. The law firm becomes a physical center for the highly sexualized environment the characters inhabit. Lawyers and secretaries date, flirt, and have romantic relations with each other while running into former or potential romantic interests in the office or at the courtroom is a part of every episode.
When Ally McBeal was first released, it captivated a large audience. It was well written and wonderfully acted. The show won numerous awards while it was airing on television. Around the end of the third season, the show began to lose its spark. Viewing numbers began to drop along with the quality of the writing. Many strong supporters of the show continued to watch the show until its final season. Ally McBeal has maintained a cult following in the post years after the series ended. To these followers, the release of Seasons 3, 4, and 5, on DVD is a dream come true.
The video aspect ratio is 1.78:1. When watching the show, I noticed that the video quality was not as sharp as I would like it to be. The video can be over pixilated in certain sequences. The actors and backgrounds can also be slightly unfocused. For someone who watches a lot of newer television series, they will notice that this is an older show due to the lack of quality.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The language selections include English, French, and Spanish with subtitles. The audio is average. Nothing stands out to ruin the quality of the audio or make it spectacular.
This DVD set contains no special features.
Ally McBeal appeals to many people for the lighthearted and comedic nature of the show. Some of the comedic situations were hilarious, but they didn’t make me want to continue to watch the show. As I stated early in the review, there are people who do not enjoy the show. To me it quickly became annoying. As a woman, I can see the validation in the negative feminist remarks this show receives. The main female characters should appear as intelligent, self-supportive, and dedicated to their law careers. In actuality these characters are flighty, ask others for legal advice, and are emotionally insecure. They make up for their insecurities with short skirts and high heels! If you enjoy post-modern comedic dramas centered on bizarre characters, then this is a show to check out.