By SHERRI RIFKIN
MY friends and I anticipated the season premiere of Ally McBeal as eagerly as advertisers await the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl.
E-mails were sent back and forth weeks in advance: OK, I got confirmation from my contact at TVGEN ... Sept. 14th is the first Ally.
Yeah, you free? Good. Let's meet at Marci's house ... we'll order in and watch it together. Then we can discuss afterwards.
Do you think Dylan McDermott will be on again? I hope so. What a hottie.
Did you see the trailer? I think there is a new chick, some blonde-bitch, Ally's new nemesis type. I know, I can't wait either.
We all arrived early. There were six of us, all on the cusp of our 30s, a mix of marrieds with babies and dating singles. We decided on Chinese. We ordered too much food, natch.
I carefully monitored how much everyone was eating. I was eating the most, hands down, while the new mothers begged off, citing the need to lose the weight they gained in pregnancy.
That of course took all the fun out of eating for me, so I slumped in my chair, disappointed that the pig-out session was not to be.
We watched intently, carefully dissecting each segment during the commercials.
The early returns were that the first episode was bad. A six out of 10, I think we decided. It was too How Stella Got Her Groove Back - without the groove.
General comments: the young guy theme didn't work, he wasn't even cute, who would believe that stuff, where was Dylan?
But then came the Fenway Park scene. Ally, rather Calista Flockhart playing Ally, in faded Levi's and a purple midriff-baring cardigan, frolicking with her young buck ... feigning a grueling game of baseball. Then, Ally turned sideways. We all gasped.
She was paper thin, hip bones jutting out, flat-chested. Oh my god, we said, is she really that skinny?! We were all horrified, but at the same time, well, dare I admit it? Some of us were envious.
Since Jill, my marathoner friend was out in L.A. (the city of slim), she had to wait a few hours until what she calls Ally McSchmeal aired out West.
Unlike me, she hates the show, but is addicted nonetheless. She forbade me to call her to tell her what happened until she saw it herself.
When we spoke the next day, the topic was how Ally looked, not what the show was about.
It's sad that she looks so thin, but the truth is, I aspire to look just like it. In fact, I turned to my husband and said that during the show and he said, "She looks sick. What's wrong with you? Um, do you want hot fudge on that ice cream?'
She admitted out loud what the group the night before was probably scared to admit. Didn't she look great in those jeans in the baseball scene? Why don't I look that in Levis? Oh but, yea, she's too thin, admitted Jill.
This week's People magazine had an exclusive interview with the actress who plays Ally, Calista Flockhart, to answer the charges that she is suffering from anorexia. The headline: Am I Anorexic? ... No.
The story is flanked by the requisite pictures of Flockhart then and now. (Did she have a nose job, too? Jill and I wondered over the phone.)
The interviewer notes what Flockhart ate at lunch and what her daily diet is. Flockhart carefully denies the allegations and co-stars confirm that she is fine, just fine.
In the picture from the Emmy Awards in which Flockhart is waving to the crowd, she looks scarily similar to Audrey Hepburn, who was, you guessed it, anorexic.
Jill explains it this way: She has a lot of pressures, you know? She became an instant role model for women everywhere. She has been on the cover of tons of magazines. She is busy all the time ... if I were that busy, I wouldn't eat either. You could totally rationalize her being that thin.
And we do ... not just me and my girlfriends, but every women's magazine fashion editor in the country.
You do the math. Jennifer Aniston, skinny = famous. Jennifer Aniston, fat = not famous.
Same with Courteney Cox and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Hello...Oprah?
She is one of the most prominent, smart and successful female figures in our culture and the country is as obsessed with her weight as Oprah is herself. She will never be an anorexic, but is her obsession and fluctuating weight normal either?
Bottom line: Calista Flockhart is skinny, there is no denying that. Some people are appalled, and some people are secretly or openly envious, knowing that in this country, the new math is skinny = power. And showing it off? Even better.
You didn't think those short skirts Ally wears to court were a coincidence, did you?
Here's my message to the show: Give her some chicken soup and make sure she eats some Power Bars when there are 14-hour shooting days.
But keep producing a quality, creative, fun, entertaining show.
I love Ally no matter what.
Sherri Rifkin is the author of Givin' It Their All, an unauthorized biography of the Backstreet Boys.