Momentum: ME AND ALLY MCBEAL
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- You might be surprised to know that right now, m= any women are personally devastated by Robert Downey's recent return to dru= g addiction.
It's not that we care about Downey and his problems per se. It's n= ot that he's a great actor, although I think he may be. It's not that weth= ink he's cute, or that we want to date him.
It's that right now, no matter what else Downey has done or will do= in his demented and tortured life, he's Ally McBeal's boyfriend.
And we don't want the affair to -- go up in smoke, shall we archly= say?
So when People Magazine put him on the cover a few weeks ago and as= ked if he should be looked at as an object of pity or a spoiled brat, it mi= ssed the point.
Right now, on television, for free, every Monday night, Downey and= Calista Flockhart are generating the kind of intriguing chemistry that Kat= herine Hepburn once had with Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy.
Aided by great writing, in close-up, head-to-head, they do a new ki= nd of screwball comedy with wit and flair and split-second timing.
They -- the two characters, not Downey and Flockhart -- are right = for each other. It's been a long time since Ally actually had a decent guy= , so how dare Downey start using drugs and risk going back to jail right in= the middle of his -- our -- romance!
Among the women I know -- old, middle aged, young, gay and straight= -- Fox's "Ally McBeal," now in its fourth year, has turned into a surprisin= gly sturdy and durable topic of conversation.
On the show, Ally is a young lawyer working in a firm full of eccen= tric but devastatingly gorgeous women. Nelle has long platinum hair, Ling = is also a Charlie's Angel, Renee is the most voluptuous woman on television= , and Elaine is a great clown and singer.
The two leading men on the show, the lawyers Fish and Cage, are clo= wns; their physical comedy, together and separately, is what keeps the show= moving and the audience laughing.
The people on "Ally McBeal" suffer from the personality flaws that = we all do -- they're either too arrogant, too jealous, too insecure, too ov= erworked, too smart for their own good, or too critical.
They are also good friends to each other, and good surrogate friend= s to us, the viewers. In fact, friendship in its many forms is the subtext= of the show.
All these characters have a dreadful time finding and keeping mates= .
That makes up a large portion of the discussion my friends and I= have. Why should so many beautiful and intelligent men and women be havin= g such a hard time finding partners?
But there are other topics of conversation. For example, the first= year, when Ally wore those very, very short skirts, we talked about why a = female attorney had to dress like a male one. Once it has been established= that an attorney's outfit isn't in contempt of court (sneakers or jeans), = why can't an attractive woman show her shoulders, or her legs, or her long = hair, and still represent her clients well in court?
In the end we decided that Ally's skirts were just too short, too u= nprofessional, and so did the show's creators. Ally now wears pants. And = as a possible side effect to that discussion, which went on nation-wide in = newspapers, magazines and chat groups, it's almost impossible to find a fem= ale lawyer on television right now who isn't buttoned up to her neck in nun= -like gray and black.
Then there was the anorexia discussion. Ally is thin -- pitifully t= hin. The tabloids accused Flockhart of having anorexia, as if one decides = to have a deadly disease -- "I'll have one anorexia and a side order of liv= er cancer, please."
But she is also ravishingly beautiful, and we love to look at her. = This season, to Downey, she confessed to being self-involved, insecure and = immature. "But," she said. "I'm beautiful. I guess that's all right." = It was the first time I've ever heard a female character on television= openly admit to her beauty, which is the reason she got the acting job in = the first place.
On television, the pretense is that the women on the screen are as = average as the viewers. So ravishing women like Debra Messing on "Will and= Grace" and the three "Friends," not to mention the stunning women who play= the wives of working class men on the sitcoms, are all pretending to be n= ormal people.
Their beauty is the elephant in the living room that no one talks a= bout.
Ally broke the unwritten rule.
But then, Ally's creator, David E. Kelley, wakes up every morning n= ext to Michelle Pfeiffer. Maybe he takes it for granted that all women loo= k like that?
At the end of every show, the cast ends up in a nightclub, where th= ey dance to live music.
I told a friend that I enjoyed that part of the show.
At the end of the day, most of my friends, like me, end up on couch= es, watching television. I said wished my life looked like Ally's.
"I was thinking the same thing about Ally's friends as I watched th= at show last night," said my friend. "Maybe we could start a business call= ed Rent-Great-Friends. We'll run an ad and get some actor types together an= d then we'll rent them out to people for their parties. The possibilities = are endless -- we could rent out groups of people, or just special people, = like 'the life-of-the-party guest.'"
Until my friend and I get this business off the ground, I'm gratefu= l that there's a stylish and entertaining show on television that stimulate= s good conversations.
And for about how many television shows can that be said?
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politic= s, economics and travel.