Blast From The Past: Ally McBeal


As you all should know by now, I’m obsessed with Glee. Not just normal obsessed, but Ali Larter vs. Beyonce OBSESSED. Today I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and highlight one of my favourite shows which aired during the late 90s and early part of the 21st century. Quelle surprise, it’s another FOX, heavily music-oriented show: Ally McBeal. For the first time ever, the entire series is available today on DVD in a convenient box set. Thought this would be as good as time as any to discuss one the best shows ever.

At the time of its release, the series’ star, Calista Flockhart was mostly known for her Broadway roles and small supporting role in “The Birdcage”. The show’s biggest star was Courtney Thorne Smith who just came off her five year run as alcoholic Allison Parker on the original Melrose Place. During its debut season, McBeal became such a huge water cooler hit, Flockhart became an instant star and even won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the young lawyer, Ally McBeal. Using a fictitious Boston law firm, Cage & Fish, as the backdrop for show, producer David E. Kelley used the show’s weekly legal cases as plot devices to highlight one of the character’s personal drama. Prolific writer Kelley- being a former lawyer himself- has had his hand in some of television’s most successful law shows ever: L.A. Law, The Practice and Boston Legal.

What made the show brilliant was incorporating hit songs from the past to progress story lines. Often the singers of these hits would make cameo appearances onto the show and interact with the lawyers at Cage & Fish. Barry White, Al Green, Tina Turner and Josh Groban all made visits to the Fox show. My favourite musical moments occurred when John Cage would look to Barry White for inspiration which would often lead to dance numbers performed by himself or with a few of the cast. Another favourite moment was when McBeal beat out her roommate Renee Raddick for an opportunity to dance as a backup dancer for Tina Turner.

When the characters weren’t busy trying cases or dealing with their personal dramas, they were often seen hanging out a local bar. The watering hole served as a backdrop for the show’s funniest and moving moments when the characters would get on stage and perform musical numbers. Two of the show’s best singers, Ally’s roommate (Renee Raddick) and secretary Elaine Vassal (Jane Krakowski) would often try to one up each other on stage providing the show with some of the most hilarious moments.


In the show’s second season, two pivotal characters were added which would turn the actresses playing into household names. Nelle Porter (Portia de Rossi) and Ling Woo (Lucy Lui) raised havoc on the existing lawyers with their good looks, icy personalities and overall eccentric tendencies. Random fact: when Kelley auditioned actresses for the role of Nelle Porter, he was so impressed with Lucy Lui, he created the role of Ling Woo specifically for her. A smart move on his part, since Ling Woo became one of the show’s most popular characters, giving McBeal herself a run for her money.

Without David E. Kelley and his genius, we would’ve never had Calista Flockhart, Lucy Lui, Portia de Rossi, Jane Krakowski and Vonda Shepherd. Well, okay ixnay the Shepherd-ay. Virtually unheard of before the show, one of her tracks served as the theme song for the show. The ubiquitous “Searchin’ My Soul” has forever haunted me since I first heard it and easily wins as one of the most annoying theme songs ever. What made it even worse was Shepherd becoming part of the show on a regular basis. It wasn’t her singing so much that bothered me but rather the vacant look she gave whenever forced to utter a line that wasn’t sung. It was painful.

The show often had running gags that served as instant comedic relief when used. Here are a few that I can remember:

  • Ally tripping whenever she met someone she liked
  • Ally’s hallucination of a creepy CGI dancing baby
  • Richard Fish’s fascination with older women and their excess throat skin, which he referred to as “wattle”
  • Fishisims: comments and philosophies Fish would create to support his usually outlandish point of view
  • Nelle Porter swinging her beautiful blonde locks in slow motion
  • Elaine Vassal’s overall gossipy and eavesdropping nature
  • The iconic unisex bathroom where a lot of the action took place
  • The remote control toilet flusher John Cage used to give himself a fresh bowl

Were you as big of an Ally McBeal fan as me? Who were your favourite characters? What moment stands apart from the rest? Weigh in below with your comments and opinions.

As mentioned before, the unisex bathroom provided some of the show’s best moments. Below is one of the best dancing scenes ever on the show.

  • Robyn

    Possibly a bigger fan than you – or we can call it even… I had an outfit that I refered to as my “Ally McBeal” and my husband kind of looks like Richard Fish.
    THE best character addition was Robert Downey Jr. … he is brilliant and funny and saved that show in the last season.
    Theme songs: Ally had her “theme song” (one that you hear in your head all the time and sums up your life) and her “Pips”. For the life of me I can’t remember what hers was. Maybe it’s because I was so busy trying to find mine.

  • Robyn

    Robert Downey Jr. sings “River” – THE best Joni Mitchell song. Kills me every time.

  • pj

    Her song is …slow version “Tell em”( I know something about love)….
    I can’t wait to get this boxset!!!!!!!!