How Real Is McBeal?

By Stef MacDonald

In our quest to find out, TV Guide went to Ally’s home base of Boston and grilled five real-life contemporaries—Amy Brown, 28, Andrea Cross, 27, Jocelyn Edwards, 29, Susan Graham, 28, and Jessica Nagle, 24. One’s married; the others have boyfriends or, like Ally, they’re still looking. One’s a law student (at McBeal creator David E. Kelley’s alma mater, Boston University); the others work in a variety of fields. Over a three-hour dinner, the women dished about everything from why Billy deserves the Dumpster to whether they identify with one of television’s screwiest heroines.

TV Guide: What do you like about Ally?

Amy: It’s nice to see someone screw up like she does—everybody’s probably acted irrationally and done selfish things.

Andrea: I like her quirkiness and the show’s. You sort of want to be in this fantasy world with her.

Susan: I used to find her really whiny. Now I think there’s a lot more depth to her.

Jessica: I like the way she’s always falling down, literally.

TVG: Do you sympathize with her?

Amy: Definitely when she’s lonely. It’s really hard to meet somebody. When she’s walking down a rainy street in Boston.… They really capture that feeling.

Andrea: Don’t you think they show too much of it, though? I mean, she’s on an empty street by herself every half hour.

Jocelyn: Well, it’s a chance to play Vonda Shepard’s music!

TVG: What about Calista Flockhart, who plays Ally? Everyone’s been commenting about her weight.

Jocelyn: She didn’t start out that thin.

Andrea: It’s not our business, but you notice. It’s distracting.

Amy: I feel bad for her. Now she looks frail. The good thing is that her roommate, Renee, is voluptuous and loves it.

TVG: Getting back to the show, what do you think of Billy?

Jocelyn: He’s a wimp.

Amy: If he were like the guy on The Practice [Dylan McDermott], then I could buy it. I almost think Fish is cute.

Jocelyn: Because he has a personality!

Andrea: Why are these two women [Ally and Georgia] head-over-heels in love with Billy?

Jocelyn: He’s Ally’s first love and she can’t have him.

Andrea: It’s the forbidden fruit.

Jocelyn: And the fruit is in her office every day.

Susan: I would not be able to work with my former first love.

Jocelyn: And his wife. No way!

TVG: So are Billy and Ally destined to be together?

Everyone: No!

Jessica: Maybe last year I would have liked to see that but not now.

Andrea: When Ally had all these fantasies about him, that was good enough.

Susan: But Ally and Billy haven’t really done anything yet. What’s one kiss?

Jessica: They’re portraying her as a weak woman. If Billy left his wife, I think Ally would find she’s not really in love with him. She’s in love with the idea of him.

TVG: Do you like Ally’s new guy, Greg?

Amy: He’s nice and cute but I want him to be a little more charismatic.

Jessica: It’s good that they’re not making an issue over the interracial relationship.

Andrea: It’s the same with Fish and Ling. [And] what about that model guy? With the…

Jocelyn: Oh, that was so awesome.

Andrea: I liked that it was purely sexual.

TVG: And her near fling with a boy toy?

Susan: Being a 28-year-old woman, I thought, Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if this 18-year-old hottie was flirting with me?

Andrea: But would you follow through? Ten years younger is too much for me.

Susan: Probably not. But how come it’s OK for Whipper to date Fish but not for Ally to be dating the younger guy?

Jessica: It’s different when you’re older.

TVG: What about the interoffice dating?

Susan: I spend more hours at work than I do anywhere else, and I don’t have many opportunities to meet people [elsewhere]. But the idea of dating someone at work is not something I want.

Andrea: It’s a little extreme in that office. Elaine is the only one who hasn’t gone out with someone at the firm.

TVG: Speaking of Elaine…

Jocelyn: I worked with someone like her. She was nosy and would say inappropriate things about sex that you just don’t need to know. But I don’t think she’s out to hurt anybody.

Andrea: I loved when Elaine went out with the John Ritter character. Ally made the right decision not to go out with him.

Amy: Guys come and go, but friends are more important. I think Ally realized she cared about Elaine even though Elaine drives her crazy!

TVG: What about the new women in the office?

Amy: I really got a kick out of how Elaine, Ally and Georgia were being catty about Nelle [when she first joined the firm]. I think women sometimes do that and we don’t really mean it.

Andrea: Sometimes? [Laughter from all]

Susan: Nelle and Ling helped to bring out those male characters who were on the back burner last season.

Amy: I love Ling.

Andrea: We want to be her!

Jocelyn: She’s got some power, boy! Her lines are just amazing.

Amy: I love when they play that music with her entrances.

Andrea: And Ling’s growl. They needed a character who’s totally nasty.

Susan: Because Ally’s too inhibited.

Jessica: I just want to know why Ling has to be so hard.

Amy: But they’re both kind of the same in that they’re lonely in a way. Back to the whole loneliness theme.

Andrea: They could have called the show Alone in Boston.

Susan: Or Sleepless in Boston.

TVG: So Ally’s single, but is it realistic for her biological clock to be ticking?

Jessica: She’s still young to be thinking so much about that.

Jocelyn: But I do know people who feel they’re not on schedule: married [with] a house and children.

Andrea: But it’s cool that she doesn’t think about it every day.

TVG: Clearly the office is Ally’s second home. What do you think of the firm?

Andrea: If any of these people worked in your office they’d annoy the hell out of you! But we enjoy watching them.

Jocelyn: I wish people could be as open and honest as they are, especially in court. Fish says exactly what he wants.

Amy: I think Fish is so cool because he’s like a caricature of the bad man.

Jessica: I think most men are like that a little, but they’re not allowed to say what he says. I want to see more of John Cage; he’s my favorite.

Amy: Mine too. But the frog thing was too weird; I didn’t get that.

Jessica: He’s one of these people you’re friends with and can’t picture dating and all of a sudden he’s your boyfriend!

TVG: How do you rate Ally’s take on the law?

Amy: I’m sick of everybody winning.

Jessica [the law student]: My boyfriend’s a lawyer and we’ll talk about the show’s legal aspects. But to me, it’s a comedy. I get more upset when a show like Law & Order does something inaccurate, because they’re trying to portray it as real.

TVG: What about that unisex bathroom?

Jessica: I don’t like it.

Andrea: It doesn’t seem outlandish to me. My college had coed bathrooms.

Jocelyn: There’s some decent socializing going on in there!

Amy: Maybe if your office had nice bathrooms like that you’d hang out there.

TVG: Any opinions on Ally’s short skirts?

Jocelyn: I don’t think they’d [fly].

Susan: I like her calf-length skirts. Have you noticed she’s been wearing them?

Jessica: I [interned] at a law firm and some women dressed questionably. But no judge would ever comment on it.

TVG: So to sum things up, is there anything you’d like to see on the show?

Andrea: I think they need another guy.

Amy: I’d like to see a total babe come in.

Jocelyn: An all-around great single guy.

Andrea: For Ally!