Ally McBeal is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from September 8, 1997 to May 20, 2002. Created by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young lawyer working in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, with other young lawyers whose lives and loves were eccentric, humorous and dramatic. The series placed #48 on Entertainment Weekly's "New TV Classics" list.
The series, set in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, begins with main character Ally joining the firm (co-owned by her law school classmate Richard Fish) after leaving her previous job due to sexual harassment. On her first day Ally is horrified to find she will be working alongside her ex-boyfriend Billy Thomas—whom she has never gotten over—and to make things worse, Billy is now married to fellow lawyer Georgia, who later joins Cage and Fish too. The triangle between the three forms the basis for the main plot for the show's first three seasons.
Although ostensibly a legal drama, the main focus of the series was the romantic and personal lives of the main characters, often using legal proceedings as plot devices to contrast or reinforce a character's drama. For example, bitter divorce litigation of a client might provide a backdrop for Ally's decision to break up with a boyfriend. Legal arguments were also frequently used to explore multiple sides of various social issues.
Cage & Fish (which becomes Cage/Fish & McBeal or Cage, Fish, & Associates towards the end of the series), the fictional law firm where most of the characters work, is depicted as a highly sexualized environment, symbolized by its unisex restroom. Lawyers and secretaries in the firm routinely date, flirt with, or have a romantic history with each other, and frequently run into former or potential romantic interests in the courtroom or on the street outside.
The series had many offbeat and frequently surreal running gags and themes, such as Ally's tendency to immediately fall over whenever she met somebody she found attractive, or Richard Fish's wattle fetish and humorous mottos ("Fishisms" & "Bygones"), or John's gymnastic dismounts out of the office's unisex bathroom stalls, that ran through the series. The show used vivid, dramatic fantasy sequences for Ally's and other characters' wishful thinking; particularly notable is the dancing baby.
The series also featured regular visits to a local bar where singer Vonda Shepard regularly performed (though occasionally handing over the microphone to the characters). The series also took place in the same continuity as David E. Kelley's legal drama The Practice (which aired on ABC), as the two shows crossed over with one another on occasion, a very rare occurrence for two shows that aired on different networks.
- Calista Flockhart – Ally McBeal
- Greg Germann – Richard Fish
- Jane Krakowski – Elaine Vassal
- Dyan Cannon – Jennifer "Whipper" Cone (seasons 1-3 recurring)
- Peter MacNicol – John Cage (episodes 2–103; recurring afterwards)
- Lisa Nicole Carson – Renée Raddick (seasons 1–4; one guest appearance in series finale)
- Gil Bellows – Billy Allen Thomas (seasons 1–3; recurring afterwards)
- Courtney Thorne-Smith – Georgia Thomas (seasons 1–3; recurring afterwards)
- Vonda Shepard – Herself (seasons 2–5; recurring previously)
- Portia de Rossi – Nelle Porter (seasons 2–5)
- Lucy Liu – Ling Woo (episodes 32–96; 103)
- James LeGros – Mark Albert (season 4; recurring previously)
- Robert Downey, Jr. – Larry Paul (season 4; uncredited appearances afterwards)
- Regina Hall – Corretta Lipp (season 5; recurring previously)
- Julianne Nicholson – Jenny Shaw (episodes 91–103)
- James Marsden – Glenn Foy (episodes 91–103)
- Josh Hopkins – Raymond Millbury (season 5)
- John Michael Higgins – Steven Milter (season 5)
- Hayden Panettiere – Maddie Harrington (episodes 101–112)
- Jon Bon Jovi – Victor Morrison (season 5)