Shiny Shelf

Ally McBeal: Season Four, Part One Box Set

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

With its fourth season, David E Kelley attempted to pull his series out of the quagmire of cast problems and chaotic storylines and anchor it to an ongoing serious romance for his neurotic heroine. The early signs can be seen at the end of Season Three, with James LeGros’ Mark Albert introduced as an obvious love interest, but the season ending with Timothy Dutton’s Brian as Ally’s longterm boyfriend. Season Four sidelines Mark and ditches Brian to go for more hardcore star power, wheeling in Robert Downey Jr as Larry Paul, who Ally initially mistakes for a therapist in ‘Sex, Lies, and Second Thoughts’. Of course, Larry turns out to be a lawyer, and after a couple of misfires – Ally ends up dating a father and son, while Larry goes out with Nelle – Ally and Larry end up dating. This season box set takes us through the growth of their relationship, as Ally finds out more about Larry’s past (he’s got been married, and has a son from a previous relationship), all the way to Larry’s sudden departure as he heads back to Detroit to be with his child in ‘Hats Off To Larry’. Downey Jr is a perfect foil for Calista Flockhart, just as the deeply flawed but adorable Larry fits well with the severely neurotic-but-needy Ally. Their relationship is believable, and through it Ally becomes less selfish, more giving and becomes capable of making sacrifices for the benefit of others, understanding Larry’s need to prioritise his family.

This is a strong run of episodes powered by some stellar guest stars (Downey Jr, Michael Vartan (now on ‘Alias’), Anne Heche as a love interest for John Cage), X-Girl Famke Jannsen as the mother of Larry’s son. The re-focussing on Ally and Larry works well, and the Larry-light episodes feel like treading water as a result. A shame that Brian has to be labelled as a tedious sexual incompetent to get rid of him, yet another example of the British in US TV being cliched dull, sexless tea drinkers, but the sacrifice is one worth making to get Larry on board the show. The supporting cast are squandered in the initial episodes, but get some good material later on. John Cage has a couple of romantic subplots, firstly with the puritanical Kimmy and secondly with Anne Heche’s tourettic Melanie (neither romance is especially convincing, both being largely played for laughs). The nixing of any Mark-Ally relationship sees the beginning of a slow wasting of James LeGros – his involvement with the transgendered Cindy is well developed early on, but his involvement with Elaine is unconvincing and undercooked. After the prominence of Nelle’s character in previous seasons, she also gradually slides to the background. ‘Love on Holiday’ is a great Portia de Rossi vehicle, as Nelle falls for a man and loses him in one day, and there’s some digging around in Nelle’s unhappy background in ‘The Man With The Bag’, but these are some of the last gasps of development for this character.

While some episodes misfire – ‘Mr Bo’ is a happy tramp story of almost staggering poor taste and lameness – overall this is a series with forward momentum, and there’s always plenty of Fishisms and musical sequences to keep things bouncing through even the driest patch, not to mention a neverending stream of great lines for Lucy Liu’s acerbic Ling. Although entirely free of even the most basic special features (the menus are silent stills from the show!), the low price point and high sound & picture quality make these Ally DVDs well worth the investment. Now all we need is DVDs of all the earlier seasons…

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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