In 1997 the FOX network aired the first Ally McBeal episode. The story is based on the desperate desire of one young lawyer to find love, romance, and happiness despite lingering under the presence of the love of her life. Childhood sweethearts and best friends, the starring character and Billy Thomas have never totally lived life apart. It was Billy who went off to law school but it didn't take long before his love struck sweetheart followed. Her lack of interest in law seemed to have no bearing on her determination.
In the first episode we find the young, beautiful lawyer in need of a job. Her luck began to change when she found an old friend of hers who was able to set her up in his law firm. Richard Fish extends the job offer and agreement service contract to his old friend before either of them are aware that Billy Thomas is employed there, too. Just to make matters a little more complicated Billy's wife is also in the office, as yet another employee of the firm.
The struggle between the characters creates plenty of room for additional drama but also brings out some of the humor that Calista Flockhart, who plays the main character, has been known for keeping quietly to herself. The sexual tension can practically be felt through the screen.
As a single lawyer just entering the prime of her life and was hoping for more than just another fling. She is looking for that one person that can take her mind and heart back. It seems she has handed it off to Billy with the hopes of being the center of his affection. Yet, as failed relationships unfold there is always that one special place that she holds for her childhood sweetheart.
Part of the charm of the series is the attention that is given to the unusual. With many little quirks that separate the violence filled dramas from the fun loving but intelligent dramatic comedy. The nervous habit given to Flockhart's character is her tendency to fall down abruptly whenever she sees a very attractive man with whom she feels could have the potential for long term marital bliss.
The writers made the characters real in relation to their fallibility and their willingness to make themselves look foolish in order to at least delve into their challenges to grow. On more than one occasion you'll find the characters ducking into bathrooms, trying to creep up on a former love without being seen, or even grabbing the cocktail platter straight from the server's hands so that they may have the opportunity to introduce themselves.
When all else fails McBeal is able to take everyone to the vivid and creative daydream of the moment. These little snippets take the wild turns and unrealistic pit stops that help her deal with the situation of the time. These daydreams are wonderful diversion for her as well as great diversions for the viewers. She thinks about what most people in the same circumstances would want to see happen. Her daydreams are the production point for icons such as the dancing baby. While these daydreams were often on this side of ridiculous, the point was made and the viewers were able to laugh at themselves a bit too. The reflection of real life was still evident in the daydreams.
The series also brought in Vonda Shepard, who took her role as herself seriously. The lawyers from the Cage and Fish law firm would often drop by a local pub and put some time in on the barstools. There, they would have the entertainment of Vonda Shepard, who mainstreamed the song Searching My Soul once the series began to take flight. The music of Shepard on the show gave the viewers a chance to become Vonda fans.
The romantic comedy overlay of the series was a successful new twist on courtroom drama. With tension inside and outside of the courtroom and the office there were always secondary plots twisted in with former or potential lovers drifting in from one scene to another. The entire Cage and Fish law firm seemed to be perpetually advancing or negating the various sexually based mini-dramas that were unfolding in every episode.
Often these mini-dramas would be intermingled with the issues of the day at the office. Different clients would represent different epiphanies regarding the current love life. Different clients would influence different cast and crew members in a unique way.
Ally McBeal was a struggling success story. While it lacked the popularity of shows like The Practice and Law and Order, it has a steady and firm following that loved the twist on the typical drama. The final season aired in 2002 and the Fish and Cage law firm closed its doors.