Car wash encounters. Salacious smooches. Ally McBeal is wilder than ever, so we weigh in on the show’s lusty new attitude.

Is it possible to sue a TV show for sexual harassment? It’s about the only twist David E. Kelley hasn’t come up with yet for the libidinous lawyers of Ally McBeal. "I know that I should feel shame or guilt,"said Ally (Calista Flockhart, above), after her steamy season-opening tryst with a stranger in a car wash — just the first act in the show’s erotically berserk third year. Shame? Guilt? Leave that to us, as we watch in an increasingly conflicted state of delight and mortification while Ally evolves from a quirky romantic comedy into network TV’s most uninhibited sex romp ever.

"There’s something brave about a woman who identifies a fantasy and just pursues it," says Ling (Lucy Liu), not long before engaging Ally in a lingering kiss that sent pulses and ratings soaring in November, turning watercooler rehashes into geysers of heated debate. Brave, maybe. Maddening, possibly. Titillating, surely. Consider the following:

Whipper (Dyan Cannon) and Renee (the increasingly cartoonish Lisa Nicole Carson) interviewing prospective male coworkers by having them strip and strut.

Or Elaine (Jane Krakowski) helping Cage (Peter MacNicol) regain his sexual confidence by groping him in the bathroom, cooing, "You hot little biscuit."

Or Nelle (Portia de Rossi) revealing her secret spanking fetish.

Or Billy (Gil Bellows) mutating into a "card-carrying-and-proud-of-it" chauvinist pig, dyeing his hair blond and declaring, "I need to feel more worshiped." (Oh, well, at least Billy now has character.)

And who was surprised when guest star Farrah Fawcett began kissing Billy, just in time for his estranged wife, Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith), to walk in?

While the sniggering quality of this brazen wackiness sometimes makes the show as preposterous as it is provocative, the deep-down virtues of Ally remain constant (if sometimes hidden): heart, wistfulness and hope. The secret appeal of Ally is that despite all the lustful, button-pushing shock value, the show’s biggest surprise is its ability to really make us care. Kelley has said that one of his favorite themes is loneliness. You can see it on The Practice with Ellenor’s doomed romances. And how often have we watched dithery Ally end the day alone, forlorn, yet unwilling to give up the dance?

As kooky as they act, the Ally repertory company is serious about love. Georgia would never have met or kissed (however unknowingly) Ally’s dad in a bar if she hadn’t felt completely abandoned after Billy’s transformation. And when her transgression was revealed at a McBeal family Thanksgiving, the fallout revealed deep layers of unresolved emotional pain in Ally’s past. Not even the sardonic Fish (Greg Germann) has been immune to poignant soul-searching, asking "Don’t you really want to be in love one day?"as he broke up with Ling. And when Ally recently comforted Cage by telling him, "I’ve always considered you kind of a soul mate, because we’re fellow weirdos," all the nonsense gave way to a real sense of humanity.

At such times, we remember why we fell in love with Ally: She’s a Blanche DuBois for the 1990s, favoring whimsy over tragedy as she rides through that car wash named desire, forever depending on the weirdness of strangers.