Debate: Is Ally McBeal a Nineties heroine? Or a grotesque creation of male fantasy?
She's everything we wish to be. That's why I like her, says Kate le Vann - and perhaps why you hate her.
Here's why I like Ally McBeal. She's smart and plucky. She believes in true love and she can't dance. And the show is the closest we've come to a primetime musical since The Kids From Fame. Most of my girlfriends hate her. "She's self-obsessed and whiny," they say. "Those skirts," they say.
While it's true that Ally has clocked up the single largest first person pronoun count in television history, most of these come from her endearing repetition of the first syllable of each sentence, which is only "I" about half the time. And it seems unfair that the same dress-sense that made This Life's Anna strident and ballsy makes Ally a subservient wimp.
Even her faults don't meet conventional female-angst specifications, which is what makes Ally refreshing. She's indecisive, insecure, a little naive - nothing men would find unattractive. But then, male fantasies frequently make great women: Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. When women write for women, we get Meg Ryan movies.
A recent survey showed that the only female characters in US sitcoms that British women identified with were Rebecca from Cheers and Frasier's Roz. Rebecca, who has never been bettered, was a gorgeous mess - she may have had the body of a strong and confident woman, but she had the heart and stomach of a loser. Roz is another smart cookie who makes foolish choices. Feisty and sexy, she picks all the wrong men, who usually reach fourth base, but seldom a second date.
For women, it's all down to having the right neuroses; like Bridget Jones. Bridget struggles with calories. Score one. Ally is effortlessly skinny. Minus four. Bridget drinks and smokes too much, showing healthy disregard for her body. Score five. Ally would never smoke - this is America! - and she certainly doesn't get pissed. Even on bad dates. Minus seven. And what about those bad dates? Bridget's boss treats her like crap, and her boyfriend blows hot and cold. Go to double figures. Everyone is in love with Ally, even when she doesn't know it, even when she's dithering and stuttering and being thin all the time. You do the maths. Bridget works at being irresistible to men while Ally just is, without even being aware of it.
It's not hard to see why cool women won't warm to her. Be honest, though - isn't part of the irritation just physical prejudice? Wouldn't you hate Ally less if she didn't look like even Natalie Imbruglia could kick her butt?
It's easy to like characters who share our flaws, because if they're sexy, it lets us believe maybe our hang-ups are sexy too. But with her limp hair and bad suits, the fixation with that drippy tease of an ex- boyfriend - Ally has problems worth bonding with. She may not be one of us, but she's on our side. Bridget may represent us as we are, but Ally shows us as we would be if we got everything we wished for. Still screwing it up, but doing it in size 8 jeans.
Ally McBeal knows that being rich and thin doesn't give you the answers. By my reckoning, that makes her a step forward. "Even if I get past all my problems," she says, "I'm just going to go out and get new ones." Here's a hint, Ally: a bit of cellulite is always very popular.
As a series, it's great fun, says Glenda Cooper. Just get that irritating woman out of it.
WAAARGH. That was my reaction when Ally McBeal admitted her age: 27. This woman is 27? If she's that screwed up now she's going to have a mid- life crisis at 29 and be through with the menopause by the time she's hit 32.
I can't help it. I just hate Ally McBeal with a pure vengeance. Not the series - I have great affection for Richard Fish, Renee, Elaine et al. I would just find it perfect if they could take the eponymous heroine out of it. A sort of Not Ally McBeal. Or Ally McBeal Without That Irritating Woman. (Look, it worked for Taggart).
Show me a shot of Calista Flockhart with that cute little scarf round her neck and I get a Pavlovian reaction. I feel my blood pressure rising and an involuntary snarling at the back of my throat. I want Dancing Baby to stop grooving and squash her.
Over-reaction? Certainly. But the problem with Ally is that she's a plastic void at the middle of a funny series. Her skirts have more depth than her character - and they are rising to an "eye-popping 14in" (I quote) in the next series, so goodness knows where her IQ will end up.
Strip away the big eyes and the perfect haircut and there's just a tick- list of what modern women are supposed to be concerned about. Successful - tick. Single - tick. Falling apart - you betcha life. Aren't all women like that really, boys?
In fact, Ally is pure male fluffy fantasy - someone who holds down a job as a lawyer, has an expensive flat and designer clothes. And yet. Put a man on the same planet and she turns into a doe-eyed 13-year-old. Neurosis - we got it in spades.
Actually, the male fantasy element is not the main problem. It's not that I demand that heroines should all have a first class degree in Post- Feminist Assertiveness. But I don't want a heroine who whinges so much. And about absolutely everything. "Oh Ally, why are your problems so much bigger than anyone else's?" said long-suffering flatmate (and luckless Ally sounding board) Renee in one episode. They're not. They're just so terminally boring that they seem bigger - and unsolvable. As Ally herself said: "The truth is that I probably don't want to be too happy or content because then what? The more lost you are the more you have to look forward to."
Compare her to the magnificent Renee (Date gets fresh? Kickbox him) or the wonderful Elaine (No man? Try her virtual husband CD). The only thing that makes sense is to let Ally get back with drippy Billy. Let's face it, Georgia and her new haircut deserve better than him.
The best moment in recent episodes was when the Biscuit finally lost his cool and told Ally to shut up. Yes, yes we all cheered. How about shutting up for a few episodes? Go to the corner of the room and twist with the Dancing Twins while we enjoy the other characters.
I want Richard Fish to get together with the judge. I was sorry it didn't work out for the Biscuit and his old flame. So, can't we just get rid of all those annoying bits in between that have Ally in them? Do us a favour girl. Take a moment.
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