Saturday, April 29, 2006

TV Heaven: All Time Top Ten [ #1 ]

So here it is. My favourite ever TV show. First a reminder of the other mentions:

  • Honourable Mentions - Dad's Army, Desperate Housewives, Pop Idol
  • #10 - ER
  • #9 - Only Fools and Horses
  • #8 - Coronation Street
  • #7 - Bad Girls
  • #6 - Shameless
  • #5 - Murder, She Wrote
  • #4 - Big Brother
  • #3 - Absoloutely Fabulous
  • #2 - Friends

You might expect that, being British, I would choose a British TV programme. Not. The. Case.

# 1 - Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
Starring: Calista Flockhart, Peter MacNicol, Greg Germann, Portia De Rossi, Lucy Liu, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Robert Downey Jr, Lisa Nicole Carson, Gil Bellows, Christina Ricci, Jane Krakowski, Vonda Sheppard, Taye Diggs

"I think I'll miss you most of all, scarecrow" is one of the last lines of dialogue from the final episode of TV's Ally McBeal, a show about a law firm like no other. Of course this is borrowed from the magnificent Wizard of Oz, but what it signifies doesn't differ a great deal. Throughout the five series' of A Mac, the title character, neurotic romantic lawyer Ally McBeal searches for something to fill the black hole in her life, usually in the form of a man. The fact that the show leaves Ally without the presence of a man in her life (allbeit with a daughter) makes the line all the more fitting in the sense that it likens her to Garland's iconic Dorothy, both striving so desperately for happiness that they're clouded by how happy they were in the first place.

Ally McBeal as a character is given such depth by both the writers and its star Calista Flockhart, who, along with the other members of the cast, has perfect comic timing. Her often hysterical and self-obsessed outbursts are constantly entertaining and frequently emotive. This is a character that endures so much in her five years in Boston, a character that subtly changes with alterations to her workplace, her life, as if the cast members were part of her family. She gives Ally an identity, a character with quirks, but ultimately one that grabs you right to the core.

Of course she hardly does this alone, backed up by a fantastic ensemble, especially skilled in comedic acting. They work together in often wacky situations with natural, almost effortless utterances, possessing a togetherness that is both brilliant and touching. From Portia De Rossi's cold, bitchy Nell Porter, to Peter MacNicol's genius oddball John Cage. The writing too is a revelation, with such a dry, sarcastic, almost brutal humour that permeates with an energetic kick.

Because its setting is a law firm, the show confronts issues of morality, often co-inciding with seminal decisions in the lives of the lawyers, sometimes in the trials themselves. This is where the cast get to flaunt their acting chops dramatically, with frequent success, especially in one particular episode where a main character dies. It's rare that a show can bring out both the funny and wrenching elements of life so vividly. Ally McBeal is a programme that has and will echo more loudly than any other in my mind, whether it be the echo of laughter, or the echo of tears.

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