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Friday, July 3, 2009

Attention, miniskirt fans: "Ally McBeal" headed to DVD

'Twas a hot and steamy July day back in 1776 when our Founding Fathers crowded into that Philadelphia hall and cranked out a document outlining this young nation's desire for certain freedoms -- chief among them life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the God-given right of hot young female lawyers to wear ridiculously, ridiculously short skirts.

Be thankful they did, or else we never would have had "Ally McBeal," the silly, sassy, kinda stupid late-90s dramedy from David E. Kelley that, if you'll remember, finally put an end to that pesky feminist movement once and for all. (I kid, I kid.)

And now, after a protracted delay blamed on a tussle over music rights, the entire series will be available on DVD Oct. 6, seven years after ending its run on Fox.

It will be interesting to see how well the show holds up, as it always felt like such a product of its time -- the Grrl Power era of the late 20th Century. Calista Flockhart's title character became a lightning rod for critics and feminists who found Ally a demeaning example of a professional woman who cares more about finding a boyfriend, but is then too emotionally unstable to keep one. Plus my god would it kill her to eat a cookie every now and then? And they were absolutely right. Ally was a terrible role model for young women, even if she was never actually meant to be one. But none of that mattered to young, heartsick me, who was head-over-heels in love with the lightweight lawyer, and her neverending romantic and legal escapades.

Flockhart may have been the breakout star, but "Ally" boasted an impressive supporting cast, including "30 Rock's" Jane Krakowski as nosy sexpot receptionist Elaine, Greg Germann as the dubious, dictum-spouting senior partner Richard Fish, and most of all, the stuttering bag of neurosis, John Cage, played by pliable character actor Peter MacNicol (whom I'll always know as Janosz, the crazy museum curator from "Ghostbusters 2.")

The show had some excellent guest actors too. Tracy Ullman, John Ritter, Robert Freaking Downey Jr. And I especially remember an emotional episode featuring Wilson Cruz (Rickie from "My So-Called Life") as a teenage transvestite prostitute who Ally tries -- and ultimately fails -- to save from the streets. But even remembering that episode now, I recall a rather jarring mixture of somber, tearjerker drama juxtaposed with wacky hijinks.

The show was definitely wacky. That's probably the best word for it. With Ally's frequent outlandish daydreams, her tendency to fall down, the law firm's unisex bathroom, Cage's remote toilet flusher, Elaine's patented face bra, Fish's wattle obsession, and that DAMN DANCING BABY. Yes, let's address the dancing baby. I can honestly say I was a huge fan of "Ally McBeal" until that baby showed up. Why the phrase "jumping the shark" was never replaced with "dancing the baby" is a question for another day. But after that annoying little CGI toddler showed up, "Ally's" wacky quotient multiplied exponentially, until the foundation of what made the show great began to crack under the weight of all that crazy. Actors started abandoning ship, ratings dropped, and by season 5, Fox pulled the plug.

Basically what I'm saying is, it's good to see the entire series finally getting its due on DVD, but it's even better that the first season will be released separately, with presumably the second and third to follow. That way you can quit buying them before things get really bad. And they did. REALLY bad.

But when "Ally" was good, when it was cute and bouncy and sexy and sweet and gloriously moronic, it was a great show. Is anybody else looking forward to these DVDs? Am I alone in my Dancing Baby hatred?

-- Adam Reinhard,

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