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TV Review

'Ally McBeal' Is Carefree--and Flimsy

The New TV Season. One in a series

September 08, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

If "G.I. Jane" is the buzz cut and biceps of Hollywood's vision of the feminist movement, Fox's new series "Ally McBeal" is the lace bra and panoramic thighs, certain to quicken the pulses of many male viewers before leadening their lids when the sheen wears off.

From its fuzzy opening to its Michael Steadman-type romantic interest, "Ally McBeal" looks like "thirtysomething" and plays mostly like testosteronesomething.

Despite its diversionary detours into fantasy, amid other pretensions, this carefree drama from David E. Kelley ("Chicago Hope," "The Practice," "Picket Fences") has nothing between the ears and is notable largely for boobs and Barbies--walking shampoo commercials with masses of glistening long hair and long legs in short skirts tailored to babe-watching.

That includes the protagonist, Ally (Calista Flockhart), a young Harvard Law grad who loses her job as an attorney tonight because of the fuss she makes after one of the firm's senior partners feels her up. Minutes later, she's working for another law firm inhabited by the gorgeous younger set and headed by a cynical former classmate (Greg Germann) who's dedicated only to making "piles and piles of money."

Helping him as his ace attorney, Ally learns to her horror, is her sensitive, caring, confused, Steadmanesque old flame, Billy Alan Thomas (Gil Bellows), for whom she still has the hots. But bummer, he's married.

Fox obviously sees "Ally McBeal" as compatible with its amorous lead-in, "Melrose Place." There is not much law in the premiere, its legal setting existing only to serve the characters' angst.

Humorous moments do occasionally intervene, such as robust young Ally telling herself that at least, "I have my health, I have my health," after an especially rugged day.

Mostly, though, this is superficiality and pseudo-hipness gussied up in gloss, and never dimmer than when Billy's wife (Courtney Thorne-Smith) drops by to menacingly warn Ally off Billy. Yikes. The scene plays exactly like a daytime soap.

The show's flimsiness is puzzling, given Kelley's good track record. That flimsiness turns out to be the one thing "Ally McBeal" is unable to airbrush.

* "Ally McBeal" premieres at 9 tonight on Fox (Channel 11). The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be appropriate for young children).

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Other TV Series Premiering Today

* "Arthel & Fred": A talk/variety show hosted by Arthel Neville and Fred Roggin, 10 a.m. (4).

* "Home Team With Terry Bradshaw": Talk/information show covering such subjects as health, home repair and cooking, 10 a.m. (11).

* "The People's Court": Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is the presiding judge in this revival of the courtroom series, 1 p.m. (9).

* "Martha Stewart Living": The "how to" queen takes her show to weekdays, 2 p.m. (2).

* "The Gayle King Show": A talk show hosted by a newswoman in Hartford, Conn., 2:30 p.m. (2).

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