Thursday, July 27, 2006

In Defense of Ally McBeal

Let's start with a youtube clip from Ally McBeal -- James Marsden (X-Men, Superman Returns) sings "The Lady is a Tramp."

I know why everyone hated this show but I think it had a lot going for it and wanted to offer a defense of it on a single point. David E. Kelley is the only guy working to keep the genre of the American Musical alive after it got eaten by Disney cartoons. Mulin Rouge was fun, but a dead end (it took that kind of pastiche about as far as it's going to go). Ally McBeal attempted to keep the whole thing fresh, and injected life into the genre by fusing it with the weekly legal drama, and by incorporating the singing into the narrative. His twist is that, rather than using song as a kind of metaphor for an inner state, Kelley's characters are aware that they are singing -- at their after-work bar, in a hallucination, in their fantasy life, in a church choir, as part of a courtroom demonstration. Kelley had earlier failed to keep the musical alive in his short-lived bomb Cop Rock, but he did a much better job here creating the kind of whimsical background necessary to justify constant singing. His characters are romantics who prefer illusion to cold reality. His favorite senario -- here, on Picket Fences, on Boston Legal, on all his shows -- is the quirky, half charming mentally ill person who may get more out of life than so called normal people. Taking song seriously becomes, in the show, the imagination defending itself against a universe of death, as in the poems of Wallace Stevens.

15 comments:

James said...

Another thing Ally McBeal had going for it: Peter MacNicol. Guy's brilliant.

P.S. Everyone hates Marsden too, right? I actually think he's a great Cyclops, and is only shortchanged by the scripts, even in Singer's X-films.

Mitch said...

Nice try... "James". We all know it's you, Marsden!

Peter MacNicol makes a wonderful appearance on Boston Legal as Denny Crane's therapist Sydney Field. Crane bemoans to Field that he's having trouble finding his "theme"... which is a nod towards MacNicol's obsession in Ally McBeal.

In addition, MacNicol has done voice over work for Justice League and The Batman.

And yes, I do like you, Marsden.

Geoff Klock said...

I quite like James Marsden, which is why I grabbed that clip. He was, weirdly, the moral center of Superman Returns, and he did such a good job he disrupted the film, I thought. My sympathy was with fully with him, and I don't think it was supposed to be.

Ping33 said...

The first season was really good.
The mainstream has never really gone in for Magical Reality but it has long been one of my favourite sub-genres. I think the show jumped the shark into self parody early in the second season though.... maybe even on the 1st show of it.

Geoff Klock said...

I watch it often but not one after the other. I have no idea what season is what.

saradani said...

Peter MacNicol IS a genius. I mean, he's the best thing about Ghost Busters 2.

As for Ally McBeal... i dunno. I never could get into it. Not because of the musical aspect or the magical reality but because, well, the characters were rather flat and stereotyped and that's probably the point but I found it too annoying.

(and sorry, the deleted post was me, I posted under your name by accident)

brad said...

Marsden really was the moral center of Superman. I wanted to hate him... you know... because he's screwing Superman's girlfriend. But Singer didn't let me hate him. In fact, he made me sympathize with him. I related to Marsden's character far more then to anyone else.
When I leave 'Superman Returns,' I want to feel LIKE SUPERMAN!!! not his ex-girlfriend's loser rebound.

Geoff Klock said...

The problem with Marsden in Superman is that he is the perfect man -- smart, heroic, beautiful, moral; but he doesn't have super-powers, so he doesn't measure up. Because the audience also lacks superpowers our sympathy goes with him, and not with the guy who fled the love of his life for no good reason when she needed him most.

He is great as Cyclops because he makes the love triangle real. Everyone loves Wolverine, he is one of the most popular characters in comics. Cyclops has to be strong or everyone will feel like Jean is an idiot for not running away with the hot badass. You don't want the triangle in Superman to be real; he is Superman for God's sake, no one should outshine Superman. But Marsden does and it screws up the whole film.

Madd_Hadder said...

I never really wached All Mcbeal so I can't comment on that, but Joss Whedon's Buffy musical episode was better than most movie musicals, in my opinion. If only there was a way to do that every week, without having it end up like Cop Rock!

-Kyle

Geoff Klock said...

I agree that the Buffy musical was great; but because it is a kind of one-off spoof there is no way it wouldn't end up like Cop Rock. I say that, but if anyone could figure out how to pull it off, it would be Whedon.

James said...

Cool! I'm glad that everyone does, in fact, like Marsden (me).

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HoBs said...

eh, musicals are not all dead. Whedon is a big fan (see drhorrible) or the Buffy Musical, and South Park was a masterpiece.

i also wouldn't call ally mcbeal a musical. though ok, I can see the analogy.

both exploring the use of the surreal in dramatic narrative

I did like the show quite a bit.

babs m said...

:( I'm just sad because I really really LIKED Cop Rock. But then I'm a musical fan. You think they'll ever put it on DVD?

And as for Ally, I think it takes a certain kind of person with whimsy still inside them somewhere to love it. Some of us still have that. If you don't, there's lots of other hard, reality stuff out there. Enjoy.

Judy Chen said...

I really love James Marsden, he is hot and cute, and he is very good actor. He sings well in Ally Mcbeal, and I love this show anyway. I love every roles that James played, he is perfect.