Shiny Shelf

Ally McBeal: Season Four, Part Two Box Set

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

The first half of season four ended with the tear-jerking ‘Hats off for Larry’, wherein Robert Downey Jr’s Larry Paul goes to live with his son in Detroit, but promised to return for our Ms McBeal. In fact, Larry’s barely away – after one episode of being totally absent he starts turning up Ally’s hallucinations, and reappears for real in ‘Falling Up’. From there on in the Ally-Larry relationship is plain sailing, right up to the point where Downey Jr got arrested in real life and the whole project collapsed. It isn’t Shiny Shelf’s job to dredge through the criminal records of the stars – let’s just say that the final episode of the season is entitled ‘The Wedding’, but that RDJ’s arrest ensured the ceremony would never take place.

Luckily, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Two great Richard and John episodes stand out – both on the first disc of this box set. ‘Boy’s Town’ focuses on the escalating conflicts and playground fights between the senior partners, and ends with them in couples’ therapy. A couple of episodes later ‘The Getaway’ sees the duo in Los Angeles, supposedly on holiday but finding themselves practising law repeatedly during their vacation. This is a fantastic episode, taking full advantage of the city outside the Fox backlot which stands in for Boston in most episodes. It’s great to see Peter MacNichol and Greg Germann let loose in the world, and both get their own romantic subplots. While John’s love interest, Cassandra, appeared again once in ‘The Obstacle Course’, Richard’s new friend Jane, played by the dazzlingly beautiful Alexandra Holden seems set for a far greater role. Jane appears in the last couple of episodes of the season, and seems set to become a regular – a shame then that she mysteriously disappears between seasons four and five!

These kind of sudden changes in cast and storyline
aren’t exactly uncommon, and this box set is full of dramatic non-sequiturs. Important character moments – including one major break up – take place off screen. Newcomer Jackson Duper – played by the excellent Taye Diggs – gets the same treatment already doled out to James LeGros’ Mark Albert, receiving a great introduction then sliding into the background. The romance between Jackson and Ling never goes anywhere much, even after a great deal of build up. Another new character, Coretta, is a slow burner – initially introduced as Larry’s sidekick, she only really comes into her own in season five when further cast cutbacks give her room to shine.

So, with all these chaotic plot threads and behind the scenes carnage, is this box set worth buying? Definitely. This is still one of the best seasons of an excellent show, and the chemistry between Calista Flockhart and Robert Downey Jr makes for TV golddust. And at less than twenty quid, this box set is a bargain. Just don’t expect a great deal of coherent closure as the last set of credits roll past…

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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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