How to Spend $20

By Eric Hughes and David Mumpower

October 6, 2009

They don't *look* six feet under.

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Ally McBeal's quality was as up and down a ride as Millennium Force (apologies to those of you who aren't roller coaster enthusiasts). Originally, it was an instant blockbuster comedy/drama telling the story of the shortiest-skirted single female lawyer (yes, the subject of that Futurama bit) dealing with a man's world of a law firm. Over time, the show meandered into awkward storylines featuring lesbian kisses with Lucy Liu (hello, desperate ratings ploy!), brain cancer for Gil Bellows, and simply far too much Peter MacNicol "comic relief". It had exactly the sort of inconsistent brilliance that has defined David E. Kelley's career. Before that happened, however, Ally McBeal was celebrated as a refreshing take on the premise of sex and the single lady, a clear forerunner to the eventually more popular descendants Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. In fact, Time Magazine once proclaimed the title character to be the "face of feminism", something about which the show good-naturedly ribbed itself. Ally McBeal was the Twilight of 1998, which is why its release on DVD is such a hallmark event.

Even if you didn't watch the show and don't really care what the buzz is about, however, the fourth season of Ally McBeal is still highly recommended television. That year saw the introduction of Larry Paul, an instantly popular character who could have become an anchor for the show had the actor playing the role not imploded. Enraptured by his talent, Kelley gave Robert Downey Jr. a chance to overcome his demons. The result was some brilliant television that coincided with what Downey has described as the worst period of his life. Not one but two very public drug busts and a media maelstrom that would make TMZ blush forced the show to terminate the actor's employment as well as re-write most of the planned story arcs during this period. Intuitive viewers can easily track the points at which Downey was stoned yet sliding by based on pure natural talent. The entirety of it is impressive and depressing all at once. It's the rare style of behind the scenes reality television taking place right in front of the viewer's eyes, and I expect it to be a source of fascination for future generations in the same way that Hogan's Heroes is for those of us who have seen Auto Focus. If you love Downey's recent career ascension and want to see just how far he's come in just a few years, season four of Ally McBeal is the perfect starting point.

Disc includes: The Best of Ally McBeal CD soundtrack, Bygone Days: All McBeal Retrospective, Season 2 TV Special: Life and Trials of Ally McBeal, Behind-the-scenes featurettes, Goodbye: Ally Season 5 featurette, bonus crossover episode with The Practice, "I Know Better" by Vonda Shepard music video.


For people who can't handle Kevin Nealon comparing his johnson with Andy Milder anymore: Kevin Nealon: Now Hear Me Out!

Ever since Weeds revamped its format by transplanting most of its Californian characters from the affluent, gossip-infested Agrestic to the quieter, Spanish-influenced Ren Mar, things just haven't been the same. The storylines feel uneven, the comedy isn't quite as golden and probably worst of all, a few of the leads – I'm looking at you, Celia Hodes – feel like they're still on the show for the sake of being on the show. One of the series' lone saving graces is Kevin Nealon's character, Doug Wilson, a fun-loving accountant whose wacky ideas and crazy antics while high make it all but impossible for me to give up on the show entirely.

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