Kristen Baldwin disses the show that once loved women but now treats them like petty, sexualized stereotypes

By Kristen Baldwin
April 12, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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  • TV Show
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‘Ally McBeal’ must be stopped

Just a few days after the relaunch of Ms. Magazine, Fox’s idiosyncratic phenomenon ”Ally McBeal” returned with an original episode following a five-week layover. What does one thing have to do with the other? Sadly, absolutely nothing. As this latest installment (”Civil Wars”) proved, Fox’s once female-friendly — even empowering — drama has become a wretchedly misogynist, petty, and completely antiwoman endeavor.

Before cataloging all the heinous instances of chauvinism viewers were treated to last Monday, let me just say that I did, at one time, love this show. ”McBeal”’s sophomore season may have gotten off to a particularly silly, gimmicky start (frog funerals? paint-on eye wear?), but the latest storyline (Ally and Billy agonize over rekindling their romance) seemed to me a promising indication that the series hadn’t forgotten what it once was — a character-driven drama about Love and the Working Woman. Alas, executive producer David E. Kelley quashed that promise by succumbing to his favorite themes of late: Women exist to a) hate other women, b) fight over men and, c) use their sexuality as a weapon.

Let’s go to the videotape: Georgia is angry because Ally kissed Billy. Fair enough. But when Ally and Georgia unleash their Billy-fueled vitriol at each other in the midst of trying a case, their heads literally morph into cat heads, and their barbs become feline hisses. It’s bad enough that Kelley believes two allegedly professional and intelligent women would use their workplace as a forum for a snit fit, but to revel in the catty stereotypes of female relationships is nastier than Lucy Liu’s Ling.

It gets worse. After sniping at each other some more in the unisex bathroom, Ally and Georgia decide to solve their problems like any grown-up women might: diving into a knock-down, hair-pulling, shriek-filled catfight. But Kelley (no doubt a subscriber to that Seinfeldian ”they might kiss” love of female fisticuffs) ups the sexist ante by having Nell and Ling join the fray, primarily, it seems, because it provided an even more lascivious shot. Is there any woman out there over the age of 25 who has found herself in a similar melee lately? (”Jerry Springer” guests don’t count.) Memo to Mr. Kelley: WOMEN DO NOT BEHAVE THIS WAY.

Even if you ignore the episode’s other sexist scenario (Nell lets down her hair and flirts with opposing counsel in order to get the settlement she wants — insert audible gagging noise here), it’s woefully apparent that ”McBeal” is dead set on antagonizing and insulting the very audience it’s supposed to be targeting. For ”Ally,” it may be too late for bygones.

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  • TV Show
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Premiere
  • 09/08/97-05/20/02
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  • In Season
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