From 'Ally McBeal' to 'The Good Wife:' The Shifting Portrayals of Female Lawyers on TV
"We're women; we have a double standard to live up to."
- 'Ally McBeal'
Emotional, Quirky, Romantic
"Ally McBeal," starring Calista Flockhart, aired on Fox for five seasons, from 1997 to 2002, and won an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. The title character, Ally McBeal, is described as "an endearingly unlucky-in-love Boston attorney" and the show focuses heavily on the personal lives of the characters. The law served little discernible purpose other than contributing to the characters' dramatic development.
The first episode of Season One opens with Ally and Billy Thomas (Gil Bellows) as kids. Their childhoods are framed as a story of young love. The two grow up together, share their first kiss, graduate high school and go off to college. After college, Ally eventually follows Billy to Harvard Law School despite having no interest whatsoever in the law herself. When Billy transfers to make law review at a different school, Ally decides to finish at Harvard and the couple finally part ways.
Ally is ultimately fired from her first associate position out of law school, despite being the victim in a sexual harassment dispute with a senior partner. She finds new employment at Cage & Fish, which just so happens to be home to her ex-boyfriend, Billy, and his new wife, Georgia.
In discussing why she left her old firm, Ally claims she was "fired for looking fabulous." She maintains this fixation on her appearance throughout the duration of the series. Ally is incredibly thin, classically pretty and inappropriately dressed. She wears low-cut tops, open-toed shoes and, most notably, exceptionally short skirts.
Ally is continuously portrayed as extremely emotional and unstable, lusting after men in order to achieve what seems to be unattainable validation. She depicts her character perfectly when she states, "Whenever I get depressed, I raise my hemlines."
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