On my way into the office today, I was thinking to myself that it really just doesn't feel like fall. That is partly due to the fact that it was 95 degrees outside, and the air conditioner in the truck was on the fritz. But it is also because Fall is supposed the time for NEW television shows, but this season is filled with shows that give you a profound sense of deja vu. "Meego" is nothing but Bronson Pinchot playing two Robin Williams character's at once, sort of a "Mork Doubtfire." Even the two best shows of the new season, "Brooklyn South" and "Cracker" are really just another Steven Bochco cop show (superbly done, I might add) and a remake of a British mystery show (also superbly done) already aired in the U.S.
That's why a show like "Ally McBeal" is so refreshing. Though it, too, feels somewhat derivative, (with shades of "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and the Melissa episodes on "thirtysomething") it is derivative in a very innovative way. And it is also very entertaining.
The show revolves around the life of it's titular heroine, and is written and shot in a very subjective way. We see the world through her eyes, complete with fantasy sequences, flashbacks, and voiceovers. For instance, when the man she has loved all of her life informs her that he is married, a quivers worth of arrows plunge into her heart. And during a meeting with an ex-co-worker she is trying to sue, her entire being shrinks until she looks like a little Ally doll in a great big chair.
Ally is played by the appealing Calista Flockhart ("The Birdcage"), and as the first episode begins she is just about to start her new job as an associate at the law firm the aforementioned love-of her-life co-owns. His name is Billy Alan Thomas and he is played by the excellent young Gil Bellows ("The Shawshank Redemption," "Looking For Richard," and a personal favorite of mine, "Love and a 45.").
The firm is headed by Ally's law school nemesis, Richard Fish (Greg Germann of "Ned and Stacy"), who is a more likable version of "thirtysomething's" ruthless Miles Drentell. Fish is deliciously greedy, a man whose bottom line ends with cash; but his greed is forthright, and he actually delights in the pursuit of the buck in a very comic way. This is a wonderful role for a wonderful actor. Also in the office is the gossipy receptionist, Elaine, well played by Jane Krakowski, whom some my remember from "Search For Tomorrow," but who I will always remember as cousin Eddie's daughter in the first "Vacation" movie.
Rounding out the cast are Courtney Thorne-Smith ("Melrose Place") as Billy's likable bride, Georgia, and Lisa Nicole Carson ("E.R.") as Ally's protective roommate and best friend, Renee.
The acting is uniformly excellent, as well as the writing, direction and pretty much everything else. A lot of the credit is due to David E. Kelley, the show's creator and executive producer, whose previous credits include "Chicago Hope," "Picket Fences," and "The Practice," which are among the best shows of the past decade. A former attorney himself, he started his television career working with Steven Bochco on the hit series "L.A Law," then moved on to "Doogie Howser, M.D." which he helped Bochco create. Since then he has followed in Bochco's footsteps by focusing on updating and rejuvinating stale television genres and risking ratings points in the name of quality.
With "Ally Mcbeal," he has taken elements of shows like "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," "The Wonder Years," "thirtysomething," and even "Dream On," and created a winner.
"Ally McBeal" Premieres September 8 and airs Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Fox