Ally McBeal

 
(i)

 

Quirky '90s legal dramedy features a flawed female lead.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Yes, the lawyers work cases, but the show's real focus is on the craziness of their professional and personal lives. The series also sends mixed messages about female empowerment.

Positive role models

Ally is a smart and talented lawyer, but she often indulges in silly and potentially anti-feminist behavior. Other characters range from greedy and selfish to loyal and friendly. Not too much diversity in the cast.

Violence

Occasional arguments and fistfights between characters; angry women are sometimes shown slapping people. No one is really injured.

Sex

Lots of strong sexual innuendo, including references to various sexual behaviors. Notable scenes include someone grabbing Ally's backside, a character lightly hitting his partner with a hairbrush for arousal, and a lawyer licking a woman's belly button. Issues like infidelity, divorce, and sex changes are also discussed. Varying levels of sexual harassment take place in the firm. Cast members are sometimes shown in their underwear and/or in cleavage/chest-revealing clothing.

Language

Words like "damn," "crap," 'hell," and "pissed" are used frequently.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The lawyers usually meet at a piano bar after hours and frequently drink wine and cocktails (especially martinis). Legal victories are usually celebrated with champagne. Cases occasionally deal with drunken behavior.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this quirky lawyer dramedy is more about the characters' complicated lives than the cases they're working on. Those characters, while fun, aren't necessarily great role models, as many of them indulge in greedy, sexist, and selfish behavior. The series addresses several mature themes -- including sexual harassment, infidelity, sex changes, single parenthood, terminal illness, and death -- that are iffy for younger viewers. Expect some salty language ("damn," "crap," "hell," etc.) and strong sexual innuendo. Fights occasionally break out between the characters, but no one is really hurt. Alcohol consumption (wine, champagne, cocktails) is frequent.

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What's the story?

Created by David E. Kelley, ALLY MCBEAL (1997-2002) is a quirky dramedy about the lives of a group of young Boston lawyers both in and out of the courtroom. Calista Flockhart stars as Ally, a Harvard-educated up-and-coming lawyer who's hired by former classmate Richard Fish (Greg Germann) after being sexually harassed by her previous employer. Life is never dull at the firm of Cage, Fish, and Associates thanks to Fish's greedy outlook on life and the idiosyncrasies of his partner, John Cage (Peter MacNicol). Ally's rather unpredictable assistant Elaine (Jane Krakowski) also adds to the fray. But while Ally proves to be an outstanding lawyer, she can't seem to pull her personal life together -- especially when she's reunited with the former love of her life, Billy Thomas (Gil Bellows) and befriends his wife, Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith). Luckily her roommate/ best friend, Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson), helps her deal with the craziness of it all.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

This award-winning series is full of witty lines and entertainingly complicated narratives that are both quirky and dramatic. Later episodes also feature [some weird formatting here that I can’t seem to fix]an array of amusing characters played by notable actors like Portia de Rossi, Lucy Liu, Robert Downey, Jr. and Hayden Panettiere. The show's iconic piano bar scenes, which showcase singer Vonda Shepard, also provide a stage for musical performances by the likes of Barry White, Tina Turner, and Josh Groban.

Despite its success, Ally McBeal has also faced its share of criticism. Many feminists find the show's general treatment of women sexist and deem McBeal's character too silly, insecure, and narcissistic to be considered a positive role model. Her signature micro-mini skirts and her extreme thinness have also been pointed out in criticisms. But the show's originality, as well as its uniquely comical cast, has made it a notable addition to popular TV culture.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what makes a TV show an important part of American popular culture. What characteristics does a show need in order to be recognized as notable/influential? Which current shows do you think should be recognized as an important part of TV history?

  • What characteristics should a positive role model for women have? Are there women in the media who have these characteristics? Who are they? Is Ally a good role model for women?

TV details

Cast:Calista Flockhart, Greg Germann, Peter MacNicol
Network:Syndicated
Genre:Drama
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD

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  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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