Magazine article The Spectator

American Beauties

Magazine article The Spectator

American Beauties

Article excerpt

Ally McBeal (Channel 4) is now almost wholly about sex. Not that it was exactly chaste in the past, for Ally herself has spent two-and-a-half seasons looking for love, and in the process slept with the equivalent of two football teams, the referee, both linesmen and a fair proportion of the crowd. But at least there used to be other things going on as well. Ally and her workmates are lawyers, after all, and it only seems reasonable that they should occasionally have cases to fight. One of writer/producer David E. Kelley's more ingenious notions was to make each legal case an echo of the emotional lives of the main characters, thus providing one more layer of subtext than you usually find in popular TV drama. But even these cases seem to have drifted into the background recently, leaving sex and relationships to take up the slack. If ever an argument were needed against unisex loos in the workplace, this would be it.

Millions of people, of course, hate the show with a passion. All women seem to be personally offended by Calista Flockhart, the absurdly named actress who portrays Ally with a succession of kooky grins and pert wiggles, although it's clearly been several months since she sat down to a decentsized meal. `Where are her bosoms?' asked my beloved. `She's got a little girl's body. This is a sicko programme.' Recent press interest has concentrated on another Ally actress, Portia de Rossi, who arrived last year as a tall and shapely creature of crackling sexuality, and has since starved herself in the accepted Hollywood manner, to the extent that all right-thinking men now wish to force-feed her potatoes and mayonnaise until she sees the error of her ways. (Portia is actually called Mandy and comes from Melbourne, which may have something to do with it, or may not.)

But if you can get past the anorexia motif, if you can tolerate the whimsy and the ultra-groomed good looks, and the fact that these are lawyers who never seem to do any work, and have the best bar in the world beneath their offices, and have no domestic problems, and wouldn't know real life if it slapped them around the head with a kipper - if you can put up with all this, Ally McBeal remains one of the most consistently satisfying hours on television. After the last series I thought the formula had been exhausted. Ally's love life was as disastrous as ever and most of the other characters seemed to be paired off very comfortably. …

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