Originally created 09/13/98

Ally will return as weird and as wacky as ever



The distinctive wail of a bagpipe filled the air as its player, John "The Biscuit" Cage, paced in front of a group of uncertain mourners.

Cage's beloved pet frog had croaked -- not the noisy kind, but the fatal kind. Cage, the eccentric partner of the Cage/Fish & Associates law firm, was officiating over a memorial service for his departed companion, who met his fate when the toilet in which he was swimming was accidentally flushed.

For Cage (Peter MacNichol), it couldn't have been sadder. But for the other attendees -- particularly wide-eyed attorney Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) -- it couldn't have been funnier. Even at Cage/Fish, where unisex bathrooms, face bras and talk about the sexual fascination of wattles is an everyday occurrence, a frog funeral was really over the top.

Another weird and wacky season is under way on Ally McBeal, Fox's quirky comedy about a neurotic lawyer and her colleagues that became the most talked-about new show of last season -- a pop culture touchstone that ignited debates over its depiction of professional women while plucking Ms. Flockhart from relative obscurity to magazine-cover fixture and future power broker. (The show airs at 9 p.m. on WFXG-TV, Channel 54.)

The series and Ms. Flockhart won Golden Globes this year for best comedy series and best comedy actress. Industry insiders have pointed to new shows such as WB's Felicity as clones of Ally. A commercial for CBS' The Brian Benben Show, Ally's new rival on Monday night, features the male star in an Ally-type skirt.

The quirky and offbeat nature of Ally will remain largely the same this season, but executive producer David E. Kelley disclosed a few changes.

Ally will not be as consumed by former boyfriend and current colleague Billy (Gil Bellows) -- "That will be part of her history, but not part of the conflicts and hurdles in front of her now," Mr. Kelley said. More important, a new lawyer named Nelle Porter (Portia de Rossi) will join the firm and disrupt the harmony of the lawyers who not only like to work together but also to socialize together at the end of the day.

There will also be more plot lines revolving around supporting characters, particularly Billy and his wife, Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith).