Retooled 'Ally McBeal' still has life left for new season

by Kelly Swartz | 10/30/01 6:00am

Sit back, start the cappuccino machine brewing, and blast Destiny's Child's Independent Woman. That's right, it's posh, it's sexy, it's female power. It's a new season of Fox's "Ally McBeal," starring Callista Flockhart.

Who can resist a young, quirky, neurotic female lawyer who subsists in a sexual tension-ridden, professional environment? Compared to a modern day Mary Tyler Moore, Ally is popular for the abolishment of traditional gender faux pas in the workplace.

The female members of the imaginary law firm, Cage & Fish, are, for the most part, vibrant and attractive, looking better suited for the Southern California beaches than the confines of a dim office protecting against a blistery Boston wind. They are forward, aggressive and wouldn't necessarily object to sleeping with co-workers in the coed bathroom.

Then there is delicate, vulnerable Ally, left heartbroken several times by the wrong men, not soon in this new season to find love or bring stability into her love life. Ally swoons as soon as heartthrob Glen (James Marsden) makes an appearance in the opening scene. Of course, his character is centered not only around Ally's immediate physical attraction to him, but also builds on ex-lover Jenny, whom Ally accidentally hires to fill the same position as Glen.

Throughout the opening episode the two attempt to work out the kinks in their relationship, as Ally, with the help of her psychiatrist, comes to terms with the aging process and her own fear of love.

The sub-plot to all this, however, does involve some legality. Jenny and Ally work on the approval of Jenny's class-action suit against all the major phone companies for phone solicitation. Court scenes, however, take a back seat to the personal lives of the characters, including Ally's weekly handholding with the infamous psychiatrist.

He describes her as "someone who desperately wants love, but no longer believes in it." This line probably proved too deep for most viewers who demand more pleasurable "Beal-appeal," or a balance of lighthearted embarrassing moments with romance in the characters' lives.

"I've done the whole love triangle thing, ok?" Ally confesses. She sounds more like a high school or college student burdened by the insubstantiality of early life relationships than a woman eclipsing middle age, constantly thwarted by love.

Herein lies the appeal of Ally McBeal to younger audiences, and the reason why this season's first episode proved satisfying and enjoyable. Life and love are great to trivialize and make fun of, especially when it's at the expense of a loveable, exaggerated television personality.

The writers create the same fabricated social circumstances for "Ally McBeal" that render youthful sitcoms, like "Friends," successful: attractive 20 or 30 something friends or colleagues with eccentric personalities placed in numerous and hilarious social mishaps.

The show ends with Jenny winning the rights to her class-action suit and reconciling with Glen. The two commit to working together in Ally's law firm, Cage & Fish. Of course Ally still has her raging emotions to deal with. Will she steal Glen away from Jenny to satiate her thirst for another dysfunctional relationship? We'll have to wait until next Monday's "Ally McBeal" to find out.