1 January 2003 | Victor Field
It's hard to watch something you used to love go downhill.
David E. Kelley's a talented man, no doubt about it (and since he's married to Michelle Pfeiffer, many would add "sickeningly lucky" on top of that); when you have a CV that includes writing for Steven Bochco shows and successfully launching your own Twentieth Century Fox-affiliated company (and let's not forget, "girls club" has been his only real flop on the tube - even "Chicago Hope," which is doomed to be the Billie to "ER"'s Britney Spears, still ran for six years), on top of being the primary writer for your shows, it takes more than mere luck.
"Ally McBeal" was a delight for the first four years - though many claimed it would have been better without Calista Flockhart, I doubt it. True, the other characters and actors were of equal or better value - who'd want the show to be without Greg Germann as Fish, the world's most likeable inconsiderate wattle-obsessed dolt ("Ally, it's not my nature to be concerned about people, but what's wrong?") - but the show did clearly have Miss McBeal at its centre; and let us not forget that for all her insecurities, her looniness, and horrible luck in her personal life, she was in fact a pretty good lawyer when you think about it. Certainly better in court than Fish...
The people and writing were always funny and easy to take, apart from Lisa Nicole Carson as Renee* (in a TV special about the show, "This Life"'s creator Amy Jenkins said she thought Renee was smug. I agree), and adding the sultry and classy Lucy Liu to the cast was a chance that worked - her reduced role in the latter episodes, though understandable from her point of view, was a sad sign of the show's degeneration, but when Julianne Nicholson and James Marsden arrived and Peter MacNicol left that was it... and as for that child - spare me. The fun and the thrill were gradually seeping out, and Cage/Fish stopped being a place you wanted to visit. Episodes like the one where a man wanted to fly didn't help either - the toll of writing nearly every episode by himself must have affected Mr. Kelley. (Also note how that bar suddenly let people more famous than Vonda Shepard take a turn on stage. And as for Sting being allowed to act... although in fairness, Mariah Carey's episode was better than "The Bachelor" or "Glitter.")
In the end, I was searching my soul one night, and found there was so much more to life than watching a dying series. But one poor season after four good ones isn't a bad average. Thanks for the first 80%, David E. Kelley... youuuuu stinker! (He said affectionately.)
*About Lisa Nicole Carson; in all the articles written about how skinny all the women on the show were, nobody seems to have noticed that Miss Carson and Jane Krakowski are, as they say, really built.