Magazine article Tikkun

The Bearable Lightness of Ally McBeal

Magazine article Tikkun

The Bearable Lightness of Ally McBeal

Article excerpt

You don't have to watch Touched by an Angel to find a television character searching for meaning. Instead, you can tune into this season's best new drama, Ally McBeal, created by David E. Kelley (a lawyer whose previous shows include LA Law and Chicago Hope). Calista Flockhart plays Ally McBeal, a young lawyer at a startup law firm who is trying hard to figure out what would give purpose to her life. At times, she seems like a cast member in a show that should be called "twentysomething," as she confronts the gap between law school idealism and the practicalities of actual lawyering.

What is endearing about Ally is this struggle itself, an internal drama that Kelley makes visible by using the TV medium to his advantage. A bit of salad dressing on a date's face transforms itself in Ally's mind and on our screen into a sci-fi-ish blob of immense proportions. When her jaw drops in surprise, her tongue lolls out like a salamander's after it has snagged its prey. Like the best shows now on TVI'm thinking of The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Seinfeld-Ally McBeal uses the artificiality of the medium to remind us of the often surreal nature of everyday life.

Further to its credit, the show sometimes questions the corporate interest mentality that dominates our society. Richard Fish (Greg Germann), the firm's founding partner, tries his hardest to be a cutthroat lawyer, like Arnie Becker of LA Law. He peppers the show with "Fishisms," expressions of his get-ahead philosophy, like "the point is not just to win, but to win ugly." But what makes Fish more than just another retread of the greed ideology of the 1980s is that, beneath all his attempts to deny it, he secretly struggles with matters of principle. As Ally slyly remarks to him at one point, she (and we) enjoy watching him develop into an ethical lawyer.

Recent episodes have also focused on class and gender issues, largely expressed through Ally's secretary, Elaine (Jane Krakowski). Elaine, tellingly given the last name Vassal, is a smart woman who chafes at her subservient position to the lawyers in the firm. In one episode, she manifests her dissatisfaction by organizing a walkout of the other administrative assistants, ostensibly in protest of the disruption caused by male lawyers ogling a buxom delivery girl. …

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