It made headlines and caused controversy for its bold depictions of the female mind, but Ally McBeal was an instant favorite when it debuted on Fox back in 1997. From dancing babies to impromptu bathroom dance routines, the David E. Kelley penned comedy-drama was more than your average law show and it not only won the hearts of viewers around the globe, it won a string of awards too.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of #AllyMcBeal and we're remembering Ally and all her sensational quirkiness. Although many would argue that storytelling techniques have vastly improved since the '90s, there's no denying that networks and television executives simply don't make TV like Ally McBeal anymore.
While the Fox series is very much a product of its own time, the themes and storylines transcend the show's era and remain extremely relevant today. The show may have been known for its off-the-wall brand of humor but Ally McBeal also dealt with some serious topics on a weekly basis, and it's definitely worth going back and revisiting some of them to see how attitudes and beliefs have evolved since then.
As we celebrate all of the things that made Ally McBeal great, a rather large question popped into my head: Why has there been no discussion of an Ally McBeal revival? '90s revivals are proving extremely popular right now, with Will & Grace being the latest series to return. Similarly, '90s cult classic Twin Peaks was revived this year, giving fans of the Lynchian drama the closure they needed (well, sort of).
When it comes to popularity, there were few shows that could rival the Calista Flockhart led legal dramedy so it's rather surprising that we haven't heard rumblings about a possible return to the quirky Cage & Fish law practice. What's more, the man behind Ally, David E. Kelley, has been thrust back into the limelight after the success of his limited HBO series Big Little Lies.
Unlike Twin Peaks, Ally McBeal did receive an ending (and a pretty good one at that), so why, you might ask, would we even need a revival? There are many reasons, some of which I'll take a look at, but first and foremost it would be for closure purposes. Make no mistake: Ally McBeal may have ended on a high note but fans didn't get closure.
How Would Ally Deal With Approaching 50?
Throughout the five seasons that Ally McBeal was on the air, the show's protagonist put a lot of emphasis on her youth. Like all of us, Ally hated the thought of getting older. While she somewhat matured during the final season, there's no denying that Ally was rather vain and, for her, her physical appearance was one of her most important attributes.
If Ally McBeal was revived then we would find Ally at a very different time in her life; she would be older now and it would be incredibly interesting to see how she would deal it. The aging process is something that we all experience and it's definitely important to see this highlighted and represented on television, so who better to bear the burden than TV's vainest character? I mean, if Ally can overcome the prospect of aging then there is hope for all of us, right?
Ally would be approaching 50 now and, as anyone knows, that's a huge landmark. Judging from what we know about her, she would hate being 50. Although Flockhart still looks relatively the same today — as seen on Supergirl — I can't help but wonder how Ally would cope with life as an older woman.
Ally's fantasies and hallucinations were also very much a product of their time, and it would be intriguing to find out what her fantasies would entail in today's world. The dancing baby fantasy is widely renowned as one of the greatest moments in TV history, and it skyrocketed Blue Swede's "Hooked On A Feeling" back into the limelight — long before Guardians of The Galaxy did so.
The dancing baby was meant to symbolize Ally's biological clock ticking, which makes me wonder if she would still see the baby now that she's in her late forties. Ally tried time and again to rid herself of these unusual fantasies to no avail, but as the titular character would have aged significantly since we last saw her, has Ally's biological clock stopped taunting her now? Would the dancing baby be no more?
What Is Everyone Up To Today?
When Ally McBeal reached its end, everyone at Cage & Fish experienced some kind of change; Richard left behind his neanderthal sexist ways and finally committed to girlfriend, while Nelle showed her softer side. The eccentric but loveable John Cage left the firm as a full-time partner and Elaine was open to pursuing her theater dreams. Ling had become a TV judge and Ally left Boston. Personally, I would love to know what these characters got up to after the credits rolled on the Season 5 finale.
While many could argue that Kelley had taken inspiration from David Lynch and deliberately left viewers hanging, it's likely that the unanswered questions were a result of the series's premature cancellation, which gave Kelley little time to wrap up all of the loose ends. However, it's been 15 years since Ally McBeal came to an end and, much like the recently concluded Twin Peaks revival, it's time to revisit these characters and see how their lives turned out.
The most infuriating thing about Ally McBeal was how certain characters would appear intermittently before being written off the show entirely. For example, Georgia, Renee, Ling, Whipper, Mark and Jackson all disappeared at some stage during the final two seasons of the show, with no explanation given as to why these people were no longer around. It was as if they never existed. While Georgia and Renee did return for the final episode, no details were given as to what they were doing with their lives. Did they continue to work as colleagues at Renee's law firm? Is Whipper still there?
Ally departed Boston, gave up her partnership and headed for New York because it's what her ten year old daughter Maddie needed. But now that Maddie is all grown up, perhaps Ally could return and resume her role at Cage & Fish in Boston. It would be the perfect storyline to resurrect the Emmy winning dramedy.
Ally McBeal Broke The Rules And Redefined What It Meant To Be A Strong Female Character
Ally McBeal's characterisation was met with harsh criticism from feminists and, at one stage, the character was featured on the cover of Time magazine, with an accompanying caption reading "Is Feminism Dead?". While she may not have been the most stable of female protagonists, the important thing about Ally is that she was always just herself. The show wasn't about putting out a positive message or pandering to a particular demographic, it was just Ally being Ally. she wasn't a feminist nor was she an anti-feminist, she was just herself. Nothing ever felt out of the ordinary for the character; she was Kelley's invention and that's all she ever claimed to be.
The show's unapologetic portrayal of the female mind and female sexuality proved too much for some viewers to handle, but it's also one of the many reasons why the show was so successful. Gone were the typical cliché that were attached to many of television's strong female characters, which is ironic because, as a person, Ally wasn't strong in the traditional sense of the word. But, as a character, she was unabashedly herself, unashamed of her eccentricities and she never apologized for who she was. With identity being such an important topic of discussion in the modern world, Ally would fit right in.
However, in spite of all of this, Ally was very much in touch with her femininity and her sexuality and she wasn't afraid to use both to get exactly what she wanted. Ally McBeal dared to be different in a time when people were not used to it and, as we can see from the success of the show, its unique qualities were adored by audiences worldwide. It's also worth noting that television series featuring strong female leads are more popular than ever, so why not resurrect one of the shows that made such a revolution possible in the first place?
The Musical Elements Of Ally McBeal Would be A Perfect Fit For Modern TV
Music is a common attribute of many television series. While scores and soundtracks have often been popular for television consumers, there's no doubt that Ally McBeal was one of the first to put such a focus on the musical side of things. Singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard not only sang Ally McBeal's catchy theme tune "Searchin' My Soul," but she was credited as a series regular, often appearing at the bar frequented by the characters. Shepard's contribution was huge and her covers of hit songs — including "Hooked On A Feeling" and "Tell Him" — were extremely popular.
And it wasn't just Shepard who provided the music, cast members Jane Krakowski and Lisa Nicole Carson performed regularly on the show (including in a special musical episode). And while we're discussing music, we can't not mention the unisex bathroom dance sequences where the whole firm would rock out to Barry White's "You're The First, The Last, My Everything." The show used music to its advantage in the narrative too; many of the songs Shepard performed expressed Ally's internal feelings. It's as if Shepard's music came from Ally's soul and all of the title character's hopes and dreams were conveyed through the serenading Shepard.
A musical show like Ally would be the perfect fit for today's world. Many of Shepard's greatest songs from the show remain unreleased due to the non-digital music formats of the late '90s. If Ally McBeal was to be revived, all of Shepard's songs could be made available for release via iTunes or Amazon Music, much like it was for recent shows like Glee, Smash, Empire and Riverdale.
In addition, music artists used Ally McBeal's success to their advantage and the Fox series became a platform for singers to promote their new records. Tina Turner, Barry White, Elton John and many more all appeared throughout the show's run. With a wide range of musical artists in today's market, Ally McBeal would once again be the perfect show for singers to promote their new tunes. I can already imagine the likes of Adele appearing in the bar, serenading the lawyers of Cage & Fish after a hard day at the office.
A Revival Would Right The Wrongs Of The Final Two Seasons
Much of Ally McBeal focused on Ally's search for the perfect guy, and she finally found him during the show's fourth season. The eccentric, comedic and shamefully handsome lawyer Larry Paul (played by Robert Downey Jr) was the one for her, and his own quirks were as frustrating Ally's — making them perfect for one another. Additionally, Downey's presence not only reinvigorated the show, it stabilized the dropping ratings.
Kelley had planned for Ally and Larry to marry in the Season 4 finale, but Downey had to be written out of the show because of his personal and legal issues at the time, meaning this was no longer an option. Season 5 took Ally McBeal in a completely different direction as Kelley was forced to come up with a suitable ending to his once great show, but short timing meant that Downey and his beloved character could no longer be part of it. Unfortunately, viewers once again lost interest and even a romantic interest for Ally in the form of Jon Bon Jovi wasn't enough to save the show.
Today, Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest names in Hollywood, mostly known for playing Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (look's like "Hooked on A Feeling" wasn't Ally McBeal's only gift to Marvel). In a bizarre coincidence, Flockhart is a key player in DC's TV universe, playing Cat Grant on The CW's Supergirl. The popularity of both actors today would likely ensure that an Ally McBeal revival would bring in a large audience, and it's the perfect time to resurrect the show so that Ally and Larry can finally get their happy-ever-after.
Ally McBeal changed the television landscape and it left quite a legacy behind, from "Ooga Chaka" babies to the unisex bathroom dance sequences, it was simply unforgettable. The series was definitely a product of its time, which is why a revival would be much appreciated; I yearn for the opportunity to see what Ally and her friends are up to in 2017 or later.
It's been 20 years since the show first aired, making it the perfect time for a revival. Whether it be on Fox or a streaming service like Netflix, we can only hope that someone hears our prayer and revives this wonderful show so that we can return to Cage & Fish once more. Fantasizing about an Ally McBeal revival brings to mind Vonda Shepard's signature "Neighborhood," (which was somewhat of a personal theme for Ally). As I "recall when we were all in the Neighborhood," I can't stop thinking about what my eccentric friends would up to today.
Happy 20th Ally!
Would you be up for returning to Cage & Fish with an Ally McBeal revival? Was the show one of your personal favorites? Tell me in the comment section below.