Ally McBeal was a whimsical American television comedy drama devised by David E. Kelley, with Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young, attractive lawyer working in the fictional Boston law firm Cage & Fish, filled with a cast of similarly young, attractive lawyers who live and love highly melodramatically.
Despite its legal settings, the show pays little attention to the actual practice of law, using legal manoeuvers as plot devices to push the main thrust of the show, the romantic lives of the main characters, forward.
The show's use of fantasy sequences to illustrate the character's inner thoughts was particularly notable, along with the character's regular visits to a particular bar where singer and cast member Vonda Shepard regularly performed (though occasionally handing over the microphone to the characters).
Ally McBeal was hugely successful, but received much criticism from TV critics and feminists who found the title character annoying and demeaning to women because of her lack of demonstrated legal knowledge and extreme emotional instability and unreliability. Flockhart's visible loss of weight by the second season also caused much media speculation, and at least one cast member left over the issue of weight and appearance.
However, Ally's search for true love struck a chord with young female audiences, and the eccentric characters around her were developed further, giving the show a wider focus.
In the fourth season, Robert Downey Jr joined the regular cast as Ally's boyfriend Larry, resurrecting the ratings of a show that had lost its novelty and thus much of its audience. However, when Downey was forced to leave as his drug addiction caused him legal troubles, and other central cast members such as Lucy Liu also left, the ratings sank again. Not even Matthew Perry and singer Jon Bon Jovi's regular guest appearances in season 5 were enough to save the show, which was canceled in 2001.
The major cast members of the show have included:
- Courtney Thorne-Smith
- Greg Germann
- Lisa Nicole Carson
- Jane Krakowski
- Portia de Rossi
- Lucy Liu
- Peter MacNicol
- Gil Bellows
Barry White's music was frequently showcased on the show as a sexual stimulant; when one of the characters mentally "heard" the music, other characters would be attracted. This action was often accompanied by dancing and took place in the unisex bathroom.