Friday, July 15, 2011

Theater of Yesterday*

I'm watching the first season of Ally McBeal on Netflix. I watched most of this show when it first aired, though I stopped at some point. Whatever shark they jumped was so boring that I can't even remember what the shark was. Oh was when she suddenly had an eight year old daughter out of nowhere! At that point I think that Sex & the City was on the air, and everyone had stopped watching poor Ally.

In fact, it's really interesting watching the show in that context...S&tC aired just a shade after Ally premiered. Fall of '97 vs. spring of '98. Network television vs. cable. Both shows were about single women finding love, but say what you want about S&tC, it resonated with women in a way that few shows have. Possibly because it showed different types of women. If you didn't like Carrie, you might still identify with Miranda or Samantha. Ally McBeal is what happens when a show is centered on Charlotte. And although there are different types of women on Ally McBeal, they all still agree that single = lonely = sad. Even Renee, Ally's sassy and confident best friend, will say things like "She's marrying him because she just turned 30." "We hate weddings because we're single." "If you're not careful you're going to end up alone." The S&tC crew were allowed to be happy without men. To this day my friends and I will be talking about a situation and be able to relate it to a S&tC episode (seeing that the show went off the air in 2004, this says a lot about the need for a new show centered on women), but no one ever says, "That's just like the time Ally had a meltdown in public and smacked someone for saying her skirt was too short!"

That makes it sound like I think the show sucks. Well, I think that Ally sucks, but everyone does. Did anyone ever like Ally? The show ran on the steam provided by the secondary characters. I've been squeeing over John Cage listening to the bells, and the first time he dances to Barry White in the co-ed bathroom. Richard Fish (who I have decided is basically who Jeff Winger was when he was a lawyer, before he had to go back to community college because he didn't really pass law school) with his "Fishisms" and brushing off everything with "bygones". Jane Krakowski's portrayal of Elaine, the attention seeking secretary, which is the exact same character she plays on 30 Rock, and I find myself not minding. The beautiful thing about this show was that it was about very odd, quirky people, and that's why it worked. In fact, I think we should bring back "bygones." Say there's a huge blow up in an internet chatroom. Just write "bygones", and it'll all be diffused. And it goes without saying that there should be more impromptu dance parties. Maybe not in public bathrooms, but hey, that's where the mirrors are.

I've forgotten almost everything except for the main plotline (Ally finds herself working with her first love and his wife, hijinks ensue!), but there's one plot that everyone remembers whether they watched the show or not. The dancing baby. Full disclosure, I do not have a biological clock. Trench and I have agreed that we're mad about each other enough that we don't want any tiny being taking our attention away from the other. I finally got to the dancing baby episode, and it scared the crap out of me!

Honestly, I don't even think the lack of biological clock has anything to do with it. This is very early CGI we're talking about. That baby is terrifying! Remember when that was on everyone's screen saver for awhile? What the hell were they thinking? The baby is Ally's biological clock hallucination. This hallucination happens because she has sex for the FIRST TIME ALL SEASON with someone just because he was hot and she feels guilty about that. Yep, this is definitely pre-S&tC. She's standing in the office, and suddenly the pitter-pat of little feet goes off like a gunshot. And then there's the OOGA CHAKA OOGA CHAKA from Paul Simon's "Hooked On a Feeling." And that CGI baby runs out and starts dancing in this very jerky way, moving its limbs in ways that limbs were never meant to move. I screamed. And for the rest of the episode, every time I heard the pitter pat or the OOGA CHAKA, I screamed and lifted my feet off the ground, as if the baby would run out and grab me.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check it out here, if you dare. Just don't blame me if you aren't able to sleep tonight. But if you think the baby is cute...that you found Ally dancing with her biological clock to be liberating...that it was your screen saver back in the 90's...well, what can I say? Bygones.

*Title stolen from Rebecca T. Thanks Bekka!


  1. See, I never watched Ally McBeal, and I only saw some of the S&tC episodes in syndication (ohhhh, John Corbett....), but I love-love-love the Community reference! If I'm going to relate a real life situation to a sitcom, though, I'm most likely to use Friends. Which makes my social commentary increasingly irrelevant, I think.... ;)

  2. I remember watching Ally McBeal for a little while, but it got boring pretty fast. And I also found the dancing baby creepy. It's nice to hear I'm not the only one.

  3. This is amazing. I completely relate to everything you just wrote about! Thanks Jess!