This is my stop on the TV Done Right Blog Hope being hosted by the lovely Deb Name Krane.
I really struggled to pick a show for this. I had lots of old-school options running through my brain.
It seems like TV done right speaks to you at the age and stage you are at when it aired. Melrose Place speaks to the young single looking for love or The Gilmore Girls to the woman with kids who still wants to be smart and sassy while building a community while Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes us all want to go back to high school for a do-over, oh yeah, and to save the world while we’re there. (That was especially true when you had to wait a week for each new episode, before Netflix, pay per view and DVR players.)
I had a lot of Australian examples I considered (I’m talking about you such as A Country Practice and E-Street) but I decided I’d pick a show that everyone could relate to. Just for your information, in Australia until about ten years ago we only had four television stations. It was a safe bet whatever you were watching your friends were watching. TV unified us probably more closely than in countries with wider choice. Our programming was drawn from the UK, the USA and Australia. We got foreign shows up to six months later so we waited and sweated on those new episodes even though word had long leaked out about what happened months earlier.
In the end I’ve chosen to talk about Ally McBeal which began in 1997. My reasoning, apart from the fact I loved the show particularly in the early years is that it spoke to me at that time very loudly.
If you didn’t watch it or are too young to remember it the show centred on a young lawyer called Ally McBeal and the antics or her friends and colleagues. She started working at a law firm, Cage and Fish and discovered her ex-boyfriend and his new wife worked there also. (Awkard!)
Here are some of the reasons I loved the show:
Lots of the action of the show took place in the unisex bathrooms of Cage and Fish. At the time unisex bathrooms were quite controversial. Conversations were over heard, people emerged from cubilces and clients were frequently astounded by the mere existence of the unisex nature of the bathrooms. The truth is lots of conversations in office do take place in the bathroom, you do need to check who is in there before you open your mouth, they are both a private and a very public space. Making them unisex just brought everyone into the conversation.
Dancing babies or Ally’s imagination and having a theme song
Ally had a habit of seeing things that weren’t really there. Mild hallucinations, or too vivid an imagination that she couldn’t quite control and while she tried to work out what was real or not it made her seem a tad bizarre. I enjoyed seeing a smart successful woman with an under-current of quirky imagination and it was a good reminder that even as we nod and smile we may be off in another place all together (By the way they use this device in very popular Australian series Offspring.)
One of the ideas that haunted Ally was the need to have her own theme song and she struggled to find it. It was a problem that plagued here through legal cases, friendship dramas and a string of boyfriends (hello Robert Downey Jnr!) She was changing so pinning down just one song was too hard. I am still trying to find my own theme song.
The bar downstairs
These lucky characters worked in a law firm in Boston with a bar downstairs. It was pre-karaoke so they sometimes just stormed the stage and started singing. I loved the idea that at the end of the day these people, who were very quirky and flawed got together and had some fun.(There was also a regular singer at the bar Vonda Shepherd who appeared every week)
This show had a rich cast of odd ball characters. I loved Richard Fish with his unique language and cadence and his penchant for older women. The Biscuit aka John Cage was a really fun, and somewhat absurd character and while I his improbable love for Ally was hard to watch sometimes he was smart and funny and despite his weirdness was always included in the group.
Work was fun
This show made going to work in a boring office job look like it was actually pretty fun. That’s probably why it spoke to me, I’d not long left college and I was growing up. I wanted to work with my friends, have our own language (Bygones anyone?) and go out drinking after work. It was a show about grown-ups doing a grown up job and yet it was sometimes hard to spot an adult in the room. That’s why the show worked. Ally and her colleagues were much crazier than the rest of us but what they were going through and struggling with was what most of us in our 20’s at the time were dealing with – office politics, friendship, romance and finding your place.
I don’t think Ally McBeal stands the test of time as well as some shows but for it’s time it was fun, it was innovative and it read it’s audience really, really well.
P.S Apologies that the post isn't very visual. We lost power in a storm and unfortunately the library internet is rather unreliable.
I am a writer of light-hearted contemporary women's fiction.
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