Judge Brett Cullum dances around with imaginary babies.
"Maybe I'm happy and I just don't know it."—Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal was a watershed moment for television, and it became a pop culture phenomenon. Calista Flockhart was held up as a post-feminist icon, a thin and attractive career woman who seemed as concerned with romance as her job as a trial lawyer in Boston. She was well served by the whip smart writing and the chance for her to showcase a talent for physical comedy. David Kelly wrote and produced the show, and the crazy courtroom antics that became his trademark emerged easily as a natural part of the series. You can see a direct connection to Boston Legal with the "way out there" cases presided over by eccentric judges. On the flip side the frank sexual talk and the female bonding set the stage for Sex and the City. The relationships were always shifting, sexual tension drove the entire show, and often the legal battles reflected and editorialized on the romantic comedy. It was a brilliant mix of funny and heartache and is a show that many have been clamoring to add to their collection.
There has been a long, protracted battle to get Ally McBeal to DVD and it involved struggles with the rights to the original music, which was a key part of the show. Almost every other country in the world has had the full run of Ally McBeal on shelves for years. Here in the United States Fox DVD released a huge box set containing all five seasons plus a disc of bonus material including the crossover episode with The Practice. They've been slow to release each season individually and each year is just a release of the season with no extras. Big fans will already own the box set, so it is puzzling to think who exactly the audience is for these year-by-year releases. But if you're looking to buy each one individually, here's a look at season three on DVD.
Mondays on Fox back in 1999 were all about the third year of Ally McBeal which had been a solid hit the first two seasons. It was indeed so solid that Fox took the first two years, stripped out the courtroom sequences, and made a half hour sitcom called Ally which debuted that year as well to further support America's obsession with Ally and her antics. This was David E. Kelly's baby, and he wrote all twenty-three episodes featured here in the set. The problem is that the third year didn't do quite as well as the previous two. Ally the sitcom version was canceled after ten episodes, and it seemed viewers declined a bit as two fan favorites exited the show to do other projects. The storyline seemed to go nowhere, but at least the whole gang was intact for a while.
Why would you want to buy Season Three?
• It was the last year Gil Bellows and Courtney Thorne-Smith appeared on the show as regular characters Billy and Georgia. Bellows left to star on The Agency and Thorne-Smith was cast on According to Jim. Bellows' character was killed off in the episode "Boy Next Door" and it is a moving sequence to watch. What was set up in the very first episode of the show came to a close as Billy passed away and Georgia walked out of the firm. Ally McBeal had always been about the triangle, and this story provided the closure.
• James LeGros (Zodiac) made his debut as Mark Albert, a lawyer that replaced Billy at the firm.
• It was the last season for recurring character Judge Whipper played by Dyan Cannon (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice) who makes her last appearance with "Boy Next Door." This concluded her seventeen episodes of Ally McBeal.
• Al Green, Gladys Knight, and Gloria Gaynor made musical cameos as part of Ally's hallucinations this year.
• Betty White took over as Ally's Prozac-peddling psychotherapist. It was a particularly funny and nasty turn for the actress and part of her resurgence as a comedy legend.
M• Macy Gray and Randy Newman appeared as performers at the bar.
Why would you not want to buy Season Three?
• Primarily this is the year when Billy became a chauvinist pig, dyed his hair blonde, and ran around with models. They assassinated his character in a way that seemed unforgivable especially for his last bow. By making him such a pig to everybody including poor Georgia, it made most people all too glad to see his character go.
Season three truly feels like the year when the creative juices for Ally McBeal began to become more erratic, not quite as spot-on. Ally's hallucinations seemed less cute, her desperation for love seemed a bit more pronounced, and the rest of the cast were changing partners quickly. It became all a bit stretched out with a "been there, done that" quality to many of the shows. There was still plenty to love, but no mistaking that this was the start of the end for the gang.
The transfers on the DVDs look good. There is a nice widescreen treatment, and the colors are warm and well-rendered. On DVD an overall softness to much of it is showcased, but it's the purposeful gauzy dream world that they always strived to create. Everybody was lit to look good, and that meant some dim scenes and just slightly out-of-focus close shots. It is what television looked like circa the late '90s and early '00s.
This is a sad season with the death of Billy, and the torturous road they made him go down before his expiration fried any sympathy we had for the character. Turning him in to a male chauvinist pig wasn't a smart move for a show that appealed mainly to women. Yet there was still enough to be charming this year, and for that reason Ally McBeal: Season Three is a nice, easy choice for fans of the show who have not bought the big ultimate box set yet.
Guilty of showcasing a male chauvinist pig, but still adorable.
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