Judge Brett Cullum will meet you in the unisex bathroom so we can discuss your last date.
Renée Radick: "Snow White. Cinderella. All about gettin' a guy.
Being saved by the guy. Today it's the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas. All
about gettin' a guy."
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 four on DVD.
Ally McBeal was fighting to find the mojo that had made the show so successful in the first two years. The fourth season was going to be a different arc, because there was no longer the love triangle of Billy, Georgia, and Ally anymore. Billy had died, and so Ally needed a new fixation for her romantic life. So the producers brought in Robert Downey, Jr., and everybody realized they had struck gold. It seemed like he and Calista Flockhart truly had some serious chemistry, and he was a born natural as the romantic lead in the quirky legal show which was as much about romance as it was litigation. But then the unthinkable happened, Downey Jr. got in trouble with the law for real and ended up in court. Big trouble followed him. And so he had to be suddenly written right out of the season, and once again Ally was heartbroken and single by the end of the year. The season finale was supposed to be Ally getting married, but instead we had her going to a high school prom with singer Josh Groban. Desperate times were back again.
Why would you want to buy Season Four on DVD?
• The Robert Downey, Jr. parts are amazingly well done. He really pops with Calista, and so it is totally worth checking in to the series simply to see the start of the twenty-two episodes that feature him at least in footage (there were quite a few flashbacks in there). You even get to see him do a version of Joni Mitchell's "River" during one of the Christmas episodes which is a rare treat. The man won a Golden Globe for his work here, and it was well deserved. It was the start of his comeback.
• It's really the last season that Renée, Ling, Richard, and John "The Biscuit" Cage are in the show consistently. The next year would see them all simply guest spotting now and then. It's the last year of the show that felt intact as far as the cast went.
• Musical celebrity cameos are provided by Josh Groban, Chubby Checker, Sting, and Anastacia.
• This is the only season when James LeGros is a regular as his character was phased out by the end of the year.
Why would you not want to buy Season Four?
• As much as a revelation that Downey, Jr. was, in the end we just get the old Ally back who is mopey and depressed. He dumps her via a callous method, and then we get to deal with the old sad Ms. McBeal who has to find a way to get her groove back. Even the dancing baby couldn't lift the funk of all of this, and it feels dreary by the end of the year.
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. There are no extras at all, simply the episodes one after the other.
Ally McBeal: Season Four is a romantic and fun year of the show, and Robert Downey, Jr. fans are going to find it irresistible. My only gripe is that this is simply the season with no bonus features or supplements. You get all the episodes, but nothing to support them. In many ways this is more than enough, but the whole box set if worth it, if you're looking for all the bells and whistles.
Guilty of being the best man Ally McBeal had ever found and then immediately lost.
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