The DISappeal Of Ally McBeal

by Amanda Cantrell

Okay. So it’s been written about before, and better (by Joyce Millman in Salon, to be specific). But it’s been on my mind, and I feel like it’s my duty as a feminist to poke a hole in the ballooning, careening bubble of media hype and critical praise surrounding the much-ballyhooed "Ally McBeal." Everyone I know watches this show. And besides Joyce Millman, I’ve yet to hear anyone make a disparaging remark about it.

This is disturbing on many levels, when you get right down to it. Folks, this show is flawed. Besides suffering from hackneyed writing and dull characters spewing banal platitudes that are meant to be cute, the show seemingly purports to give us a modern-day, everywoman folk heroine. Clearly, we’re meant to identify with her "endearing" flaws—"Say, Bill, this gal on TV is just as kooky and screwed up as I am!" But is she? Let’s take a look.

She’s armed with a law degree from Harvard, and she’s improbably attractive. She might be over 25, but she’s definitely under 30. She’s got a great job, a great apartment, great (albeit improbably attractive) friends, and goddammit, she even has great outfits. (You mean, not every Harvard Law graduate is a lithe, 90-pound blonde with an expensive designer wardrobe? Knock me over with a feather!) She’s respected at work despite her utter lack of professionalism and goes out drinking with her buddies from work every night. By all appearances, she has the kind of life anyone would envy.

And yet she’s unhappy. Why? Because she doesn’t have a boyyyyyyyfrieeeeeeeend. She’s too man-obsessed to stop and think about how good she’s got it and how much she’s accomplished at her young age. (I take back my earlier argument. This chick is pretty fucked up.) And, truth be told, I think this is why America loves her—because she’s not one of those threatening, take-charge feminists who thinks she doesn’t need a man to make her happy. We feel safe with Ally, because we know that she secretly wants to quit her job, find a man, and start squeezing out puppies within the next five years. We can accept her because she’s got no backbone, no ambition, and no ideas. She’s just a cute, simpering, whiny little wisp of a woman who might be practicing law now but knows that her proper place is shoeless in the kitchen with a baby in one hand and a spatula in the other.

And what of those silly segments that illustrate Ally’s inner thoughts for the audience? As Millman pointed out in her Salon essay, these bits demonstrate that for all her purported smarts and fancy schooling, Ally ain’t got much going on up there. Between her man fantasies and secret fears of embarrassment, there just isn’t much room in her tiny little head for matters of even minor importance.

To be fair, I’ve formed my opinion of the show on the basis of two episodes, which were all I could bear to watch. But if you ask me, those were two too damned many. Besides, I couldn’t care less whether or not she and Ross ever get back together (oh wait—wrong show).