I know there's so much more to life,
Now I know I can shine a light,
To find my way back home.
Ally McBeal is a Work Com-slash-Dramedy created by David E. Kelley about a neurotic lawyer and the wacky people she works with. The series ran on Fox from 1997 to 2002, a total of 112 episodes (all but one of which was written or co-written by Kelley) in five seasons. Ally herself was played by Calista Flockhart.
The series went for 'nutty' in a very big way, with preposterous lawsuits (man is fired for having bad comb over and sues, dying boy sues God, etc.), dream and fantasy sequences all over the place, spontaneous dance numbers and the like. Probably best known in its early years for the CGI baby dancing to the "ooga-chaka" chorus from Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling", and in its later seasons for a surfeit of "daring" "lesbian" kisses among various women in the cast. Achieved a kind of brilliance in the legal arguments made by the character John Cage. Achieved retch-inducing horror in its mundane romantic complications.
The show was a ratings success when it aired, and a big enough part of pop culture that Time ran a cover story on it, accusing it of killing feminism. However, after its cancellation it vanished off the public radar quite a bit.
Among sci-fi nerds, it's known for being the subject of a Futurama episode as a show called Single Female Lawyer.
In 2021, reports emerged of a limited-series revival being attempted.
This show provides examples of:
- Angry Dance: Lampshaded when John gets furious at Nelle for being a snobby Rich Bitch. He dances frantically in his office and Richard comes in. He points out to John that it's his Angry Dance. John replies that HE'S ANGRY!
- Ascended Meme: The dancing baby is one of the earliest internet memes.
- Awkward First Sleepover: One episode sees Ally fretting over her daughter Maddie's first slumber party, owing to her own bad experiences with other girls when she was growing up.
- Bait-and-Switch Credits: The opening promised a smiling and happy woman most of the time, downplaying the show's dramatic moments.
- Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults:
- The trope swirls around this series like a cgi-baby circles Ally. There was one time Ally looks under the door of the stalls before she starts, only to find later that Elaine put her legs up.
- Sometimes averted by Searching the Stalls.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: In season 1 (Cro Magnon), Ally and Renee attend a sculpting class featuring Glenn, a well-endowed model. Ally briefly dates him afterwards. And the "dating" part only comes after she is slut-shamed by Billy and called out by Glenn (the model) himself for only being interested by the latter's, well, asset, not the man himself.
- Bilingual Bonus: Ling's argument in a Chinese restaurant, although it's still funnier when you have no idea what's being said.
- Birthday Hater: Ally was unable to appreciate her friends' plans for her birthday parties and couldn't even civilly accept their birthday wishes. She hated getting older without a husband in sight and without a prospect of having babies soon. However, her friends could have been handling the issue differently. Why inflict parties on her when she hates them?
- Bitter Sweet Ending: Several episodes end this way, specially the last one.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
- A whole office full of them, and they are literally lawyers. All are very weird, but their firm hardly ever loses the case.
- Elaine is a Bunny-Ears secretary. She's one of the most efficient and capable secretaries in TV history; in fact, the series states that she has so much free time on her hands (which she often uses to invent things) because she's supremely good at what she does.
- Bouquet Toss: Ally fights for the bouquet with other bridesmaids in one episode. She's so embarrassed with her behaviour that she swears not to attend any more weddings. She breaks her promise in the same episode because one of her clients made her come to her wedding and she couldn't refuse, and Ally has to dance in the street wearing her pyjamas which was a bet/dare/"punishment" agreement with Renée.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Ally is mortified when she tells the patrons at her favorite bar a risque joke and they react with disgust.
- Cat Fight: Renee and Elaine in episode "Turning thirty". On a stage during a party, complete with meowing sounds at the end.
- Cathartic Chores: In "It's My Party", Billy tells Ally off for being selfish and inconsiderate. She hides in her kitchen and keeps preparing a swan made of fruits. She probably wanted to prepare it anyway, but she keeps fiddling with it on purpose.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Renee. It wasn't explained why she and Ally suddenly were not room-mates or what happened to her law firm.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Ally, John and lots of other people.
- Continuity Nod:
- In "The Blame Game", the judge in charge of trial of the week greets the defendant attorney Ally, asking how her potato chips hunt goes. The same judge in "One Hundred Tears Away" (8 episodes back) was part of the board considering revoking Ally's lawyer licence (last straw being an alledged assault on a supermarket customer who at first only started arguing over a can of chips).
- In episode 5 of season 2, Ally gets stuck with a case without time to prepare, and it's her client's fault, so a judge leaves no room for protest. What judge does do is saying that there are also good news: Ally can dress however she likes. Makes sense in connection with previous episode, in which a different judge cost Ally a night in jail for refusing to meet demands of wearing skirt longer than her mini- in court.
- Courtroom Antic
- Cousin Oliver: The daughter Ally had years before the series began tracks her down and moves in with her in the final season. Does this change Miss McBeal's worldview? Does it heck.
- Crossover: Season 1 had one with The Practice. Strangely, some characters are actually seen watching the famous "head in a bag!" scene later.
- Death Glare: Ling gives these frequently.
- Derailing Love Interests: Billy in Season 3.
- Dream Intro: In "The Blame Game" (season 1 ep. 17, if pilot is ep. 1), the opening has eponymous young lawyer and her colleague Georgia (who is also Ally's ex's wife) on a plane exchanging usual pleasantries, when the plane starts to shake and apparently rapidly crashes. It being a dream is revealed by the cut to Ally's waking up in panic. Dialogues with a trusted friend reveal that although Ally could have been influenced by the plane crash case they work on, there is also that fact that offscreen part of the dream included decapitation of Georgia and miraculous survival of Ally.
- Everyone Has Standards: When Georgia attempted to sue the firm for ruining her marriage, none other than Ling said "even for me that's bogus".
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Nelle isn't exactly loved, but she becomes sort of a queen bee of the place and her hair is frequently mentioned as a key aspect to her attractiveness. The previous one (albeit a lot nicer) was Georgia, also a blonde - who explicitly hated Nelle partly because the latter 'out-blonded' her.
- Fond Memories That Could Have Been: Billy confessed his love for Ally just moments before he died. He hallucinated and believed they were married and had kids together.
- Freudian Slip: Many, many characters many, many times. Ally sometimes slips into a Freudian Slippery Slope when flustered.
- Hallucinations: Ally has a lot of these.
- Head Desk: At one point, Ally makes her head meet desk a few times, saying "I have my health" every time.
- Hello, Attorney!: Found in all of David E. Kelley's legal shows, but probably reaches its apotheosis here. The female attorneys are dismayed to learn that this is actually a central part of the firm's business strategy... as highlighted on their official PR material.
- Imagine Spot: Part of the show's Signature Style. Ally has them on regular basis. It becomes a problem when she cannot distinguish them from reality. For example, one episode she kept seeing a famous singer, and she nearly attacked a real one who by chance appeared in their favourite bar. And she kicks a child attorney in the back because she thought she was hallucinating about her "dancing baby"
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue
- In-Series Nickname: In spades. John Cage is "The Biscuit", Nelle Porter is called "Sub-zero", Mark Albert is "The Closer", and one Elaine's friend and former employee is called "Peanut".
- It's All About Me: Three guesses as to who "me" is.
- Ivy League for Everyone
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Richard Fish, Ling, Elaine and arguably Renee.
- Letting Her Hair Down: Nell would occasionally play this up. She usually wears her hair in a professional bun, but occasionally she lets her long, platinum blond hair down, causing everyone in the scene to gape in adoration.
- Licensed Sexist: Richard. Billy tries it later, but no one is impressed.
- Likes Older Women: Richard, part of it being attracted to a 'wattle' on their necks. He's also attracted to young women, though.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to David E. Kelley's other courtroom drama The Practice.
- Littlest Cancer Patient: He decides he wants to sue God.
- Local Hangout: The Martini Bar, home of Vonda Shepard and the Dancing Twins.
- Male Restroom Etiquette/Wondrous Ladies Room: Both displayed, due to the unisex bathroom.
- Metaphorical Marriage: Cindy McCauliff (played by Lisa Edelstein) is a transgender woman. She is still legally a man (much is made of her having a penis) and later symbolically marries another guy. Lawyer Richard Fish officiates. Interesting choice, because in Cindy's story arch, Richard was established as particularly homophobic and misogynistic.
- Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Ally would often dump a guy after one awkward date over a minor flaw. One guy could not eat properly and put salad on his face, or once a guy had Annoying Laugh.
- Musical Episode
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Richard Fish.
- The '90s
- No Fourth Wall
- Over-the-Top Christmas Decorations: Ally loves Christmas, but her boyfriend Larry's not too keen. Ally pesters him to decorate his office a bit and he gets piles and piles of illuminated Christmas stuff and mechanized reindeer. We later find out he doesn't like Christmas and other holidays because he has a small son, and Larry misses him even more during holidays.
- Pet the Dog: Ling, despite her abrasive personality and wildly offensive comments, likes to volunteer at an old folks home.
- Prefers the Illusion: One of the clients at Ally's firm is a sad, lonely, but very wealthy spinster. She has sequential dreams of a life where she met a man, got married, and raised a happy family. She is petitioning the court to put her in a chemically induced coma so she can sleep forever and live the life where she's actually happy.
- Protagonist Title
- Rant-Inducing Slight:
Judge: Mr. Handy, it would be a grave mistake to insult Elizabeth Taylor in my courtroom.
- Ling hates it when people mispronounce her name by putting emphasis on the G or using a hard L.
- In the scene where Cage is defending the restaurateur that served the claimants horse meat, the defendant ponders whether Elizabeth Taylor ate her horse in National Velvet. The judge is not amused.
- Ratings Stunt: The good old 90s lesbian kiss stunt.
- Really Gets Around: Elaine or so she claims.
- Record Needle Scratch: Constantly.
- Refuge in Audacity: Ling convinces a boy with leukemia that he can sue God. Well, actually his church so he can get the money for treatment. He wins, then promptly dies.
- Rich Bitch: Ling and Nelle.
- Sassy Black Woman: Renee.
- Scooby Stack: When Ally is breaking up with Larry, the entire office spy on her and try to learn the latest gossip or see how she's coping. At one point, they all (minus Richard who is in LA) stick their heads in her door and immediately pull them out when Ally notices them.
- Sexy Santa Dress: Ally wears a short red Santa dress with white lining while singing "Santa Baby" in one of the Christmas episodes. Very hot indeed.
- She's Got Legs: All the female regulars, but Ally in particular is a poster child for the trope. In one episode, a judge sent her to jail for disrespecting him because she refused to give up her very short mini-skirt.
- Sleeps with Everyone but You: Elaine is notorious for her oozing sexuality and flirting with every man around. She is sued by her friend nicknamed Peanut who feels she intentionally humiliated him. Eventually his issues are revealed he's in love with her and thinks everyone is her type but him. They manage to patch things up and he drops the lawsuit, though she doesn't like him back in that way. Interestingly, later seasons imply Elaine doesn't sleep around and has problems finding a relationship.
- Softer and Slower Cover: The show regularly features various famous songs redone by Vonda Shephard in a slower, quieter style. For example, Bing Crosby's "Swing On A Star" was covered with a slower tempo and emphasis on the "Pig" part of the song.
- Standard Office Setting: It is set in a Boston law firm Cage and Fish. Most people have their own office and lots of the episodes happened in meeting rooms or in the courtroom. Quite legendary is their unisex bathroom. People who work for Cage and Fish frequent an idealized bar that is in the same building as their office.
- Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: Thrice, always Ally with someone.
- Elaine once took Ally by surprise and starting kissing her in order to pretend Ally is gay and her girlfriend. Ally's date guy was a douche who would not take a hint to leave. He didn't buy it.
- Ally tries Elaine's bit on a guy who is a huge nutbag and loser who becomes convinced Ally and him are soul mates. Ally asks Georgia to do it and she obliges. The guy takes the bait and tells Ally there are ways to be cured.
- Ally and Ling once become fascinated with each other and try kissing in a very long scene. They agree it was good, but it missed one thing — a penis.
- Tinkle in the Eye: When Elaine found an abandoned baby boy and wanted to adopt him, he tinkled in the eyes of nearly everybody, mainly Ling and Nelle. It made Elaine invent protective goggles.
- Theme Music Power-Up: Ally's therapist advises her to think of a song she can sing to make herself feel better. She knows "this one song" and starts to sing it. It happens to be the show's theme song. The therapist cuts her off before she even reaches the first chorus and tells her it's an absolutely terrible song.
- Two First Names: Larry Paul, Ally's main love interest in Season 4, as are lawyers Mark Albert and Wilson Jade.
- Vagina Dentata: In one episode, the female regulars are wondering aloud about Ling's latest lawsuit, and Elaine comments "Maybe her gynaecologist pulled the wrong tooth".