The Calista Flockhart dramedy gave us something we didn't know we needed

By Marc Snetiker
September 08, 2017 at 08:00 AM EDT
Credit: Fox

In a lot of ways, Ally McBeal has one of the more interesting legacies of late ‘90s television. David E. Kelley’s 1997-2002 dramedy jumpstarted certain conversations about modern feminism — one TIME cover even questioned whether the show killed it — while also earning fond remembrances on more unconventional terms: Namely, its unisex bathroom, Vonda Shepard, and that damn dancing baby.

And yet, of all the inimitable TV concepts Ally gave us, considering the series from our current vantage point in 2017 makes it abundantly clear that the greatest gift of Ally McBeal is something we didn’t even know we wanted back then: GIFs. All the GIFs. So, so, so many GIFs.


Every film and movie is perfectly meme-able, sure, but Calista Flockhart’s character endured such vivid fantasy hallucinations that delighted audiences back in the ‘90s and realistically would have sent Twitter haywire if the show were a modern weekly destination. Ally McBeal was the O.G. reaction shot: Heads exploding from frustration, feet stuffed in embarrassed mouths, cannon-through-the-gut devastation. (Honestly, her literal manifestations are probably the reason we misuse the word “literally” so damn much anyway.)

As the show strode toward five seasons (and limped its way through that last one), the fantasies waned in cleverness and novelty, but thankfully many of Ally’s best and most GIF-able can be found in the first season — and even the frontloaded pilot alone.

There’s Ally, freezing up when unexpectedly asked out by a co-worker:


Ally, feeling the crushing weight of finding out her ex is married:


Ally, imagining the merits of a bigger bust:

Credit: Fox

Ally, being friend-zoned by said ex:


Ally, upon being asked out for coffee:


Look at these relatable emotions! If interpersonal and professional anxiety is the hot new thing to broadcast on Twitter (and all evidence points to this being the case), Ally signified a big move towards the empathetic illustration of constant apprehension-cum-optimism that twenty- and thirtysomethings now widely share.

The sillier aspects of Ally’s imagination extended to her friends and co-workers, perhaps most notably in a recurring Ogle The Hottie series. Tongues were big. In this case, FYI, the ogled are Dylan McDermott (for the women) and Brooke Burns (for the men):

Credit: Fox

And, long before babies and “Bygones,” Jane Krakowski was actually the show’s first recurring gag, as Ally imagined her character Elaine’s constantly inflating ego.

Credit: Fox

But of course, the granddaddy of them all is that insane dancing baby. The character — yeah, let’s call it that — made his debut in the show’s 12th episode, appearing as a fleeting vision at Ally’s bedside before his choreography started flourishing, his reputation (among Ally’s concerned friends) grew, and his metaphoric existence as Ally’s biological clock was realized. Unfortunately, the baby really would have no great use today as a GIF, but his importance as arguably the world’s first digital meme can’t be understated. Look at him!!!


Happy 20 years, Ally McBeal. No one has perfected such a soul-searching walk down the streets of Boston quite like you.


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