|When Ally McBeal premiered on the Fox network in 1997, the series was already riding high on critical praise, with its upscale mix of savvy humor and hot-topic legal drama. Created, produced, and written entirely by the amazingly prolific David E. Kelley, the show immediately found an appreciative audience of women drawn to the title character's frank perspectives on dating, sex, and career objectives, and men lured by a cast full of attractive, outspoken women with vibrant personalities and flattering wardrobes. (If you think that's a sexist observation, you haven't tuned in to the show's brilliant balance of male chauvinism, feminist attitude, and hilariously turbulent office politics.)
This two-disc compilation of episodes from the show's first season is aptly titled, because Ally McBeal--a Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart--is defined by her seemingly perpetual singlehood, her sexual and emotional yearnings, her professional passions, and--by one of Kelley's creative masterstrokes--her flights of imagination (often visualized via amusing computer-generated effects) that give the series a constant, unpredictable edge of humor and emotional depth.
These well-chosen episodes offer a comprehensive summary of the first season's major developments, including the emotional history shared by Ally and her now-married colleague Billy (Gil Bellows); the notorious "dancing baby" (in "Cro-Magnon") symbolizing the insistent ticking of Ally's biological clock; the amiable quirks of John "the Biscuit" Cage (Peter MacNicol); and the dubious pearls of wisdom known as "Fishisms." Here we witness the sublime chemistry of the ensemble cast, and each member is given ample time in the spotlight. Regular guest star Dyan Cannon is strongly featured in "Silver Bells," prior to the second-season addition of Nelle (Portia DeRossi) and Ling (Lucy Liu). That leaves plenty of room to establish Ally McBeal as the lively focus of the series--confused, opinionated, sexy, neurotic, frustrated, ecstatic, intelligent, emotional... and never, ever boring. --Jeff Shannon