Ally McBeal-Season 1-Part 1-Episodes Pilot-11 (1997)
|Year Of Production||1997|
|Running Time||503:00 (Case: 540)|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Multi Disc Set (3)
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Various|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Smoking||Yes, a few cigars|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, other Fox products such as 'The Simpsons'|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Ally McBeal has been both a critical and commercial success from the very beginning, and the show is still running strongly today (with a new season about ready to kick off). The first season has now arrived on DVD, and fans of the series should be very happy with the box-set that has been released in Region 4.
Ally McBeal was created and written by David E. Kelley. Kelley was a Boston lawyer during the 1980s and wrote the screenplay for From The Hip (1987) based loosely on his experience. The script caught the attention of Steven Bochco (creator of Hill Street Blues), and Bochco hired Kelley to write for his new creation, L.A Law. Kelley became a writer and story editor for L.A Law, then a producer, and later, the executive producer. Kelley then went on to become a writer and executive producer of Picket Fences and Chicago Hope. In 1997 Kelley created two television series about Boston law firms, Ally McBeal, and The Practice, and if my memory serves me correctly, won the Emmys for best comedy and best drama for both those productions. His latest work is Boston Public, which debuted on US television in 2000.
Ally McBeal might be set in a law firm, and has been written by a former lawyer, but as a former lawyer myself, I note that the legal content of the show is often far fetched and very improbable. There are a number of plot examples that ignore very fundamental principles of US law, and the adversarial court system, but then again, it is a comedy. For example, the series' central characters are often all involved in the same cases as advocates, judges and even witnesses, ignoring basic legal principles regarding 'conflicts of interest'. These plots, however, observe higher principles -- the principles of good dramatic and/or comic writing.
Speaking of which, one of the strengths of the show is its pace. For example, in the Pilot Episode, Ally loses a case, only to be before the Court of Appeal about fifteen or twenty minutes later in the same Episode. Talk about swift justice!
Ally McBeal is about . . . Ally McBeal. The off-beat, post-modern, comedy follows the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' that beset the title character, who is played to perfection by Calista Flockhart. Ally is unlucky in love. After joining a new firm in Boston, run by two very odd Partners, Fish (Greg Germann) and 'The Biscuit' Cage (Peter MacNicol), Ally discovers that her long lost, and one true love, Billy (Gil Bellows) works there. Ally still has strong feelings for Billy, but Billy is now married to another lawyer, Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith).
Ally is a single, highly-strung, career-woman in her late 20s, often appearing to be on the verge of a mental breakdown. She is a hopeless romantic, and an incurable idealist, who seldom dismounts from her high moral horse. Ally often wants what she can never have (especially in the love stakes), and appears destined to never find happiness or contentment. The supporting characters are also interesting and quirky in their own way, and all very well acted. My favourite character is Fish, who dispenses his own brand of self-centred, greed-based wisdom, which he refers to as 'Fishisms', such as 'if you make lots of money, everything else will follow', or 'helping other people is never more rewarding than when it is in your own self interest'.
With each episode, we follow Ally's triumphs and tragedies in the love-department. Will she ever meet Mr. Right?
The Season One, Part One box-set contains three DVDs, which in turn each contain four episodes:
Pilot: Pilot (40:55) -- Ally starts at the new firm and is confronted by both Billy, and defeat in the courtroom.
Episode 1: Compromising Positions (40:50) -- Ally is set up as bait for a potentially profitable client of the firm, but finds she actually likes him.
Episode 2: The Kiss (41:53) -- Ally has relationship problems with her new boyfriend.
Episode 3: The Affair (41:34) -- At her former law professor's funeral, Ally is confronted by the widow.
Episode 4: One Hundred Tears Away (41:32) -- Ally is charged with assault and shoplifting after an 'incident' in a supermarket.
Episode 5: The Promise (41:22) -- Ally saves another attorney's life, and he falls for her.
Episode 6: The Attitude (41:58) -- Ally becomes involved in a divorce case with strange results.
Episode 7: Drawing The Lines (43:26) -- Billy reveals his feelings to Ally, which makes life difficult at the firm.
Episode 8: The Dirty Joke (41:50) -- Ally attempts to change her image within the firm.
Episode 9: Boy To The World (43:28) -- Ally becomes personally involved with helping one of her clients.
Episode 10: Silver Bells (42:10) -- It's Xmas, but Ally has landed a bizarre case involving a three-way-marriage.
Episode 11: Cro-Magnon (42:06) -- Ally begins to date a model from her art class. Are looks enough?
The show has very high production values all round. It features great photography and lighting by Billy Dickson, great editing, great set and costume design, great art direction, great casting and acting, and even great CGI effects. The transfer reflects this, and on the whole, for a television production, the transfer is very good. It is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, full-frame.
The sharpness is a little variable, but the image is often soft and grainy. Consider for example the hazy, foggy image at Episode 4, 23:37. The black level and shadow detail are reasonable but not great. For example, consider the lack of shadow detail in the character's hair and suits at Episode 4, 5:08, and the lack of shadow detail under the boardroom table at Episode 8, 15:18.
The colour is magnificent, and really makes the most of the afore mentioned lighting, costume and art direction. The rich and beautifully saturated colours can be enjoyed, for example, with the wonderful image of the colourfully dressed choir and flowers in the church at Episode 3, 32:43, and with the bright office Christmas decorations at Episode 9, 33:15. Colour bleeding is not a problem, but was noticed on a few rare occasions, for example at Episode 11, 28:05, the American flag in the background has red and pink stripes, as opposed to red and white.
There are a few MPEG artefacts on display, but none that should cause too much anxiety. There is some mild pixelization, such as at Episode 8, 22:48, some mild posterization, such as on Ally's face during the Pilot, 7:18, and Georgia's face at Episode 10, 4:47. Of more concern is the frequent, but slight, macro-blocking, such as evident with the background walls at Episode 1, 0:09 and Episode 11, 40:20.
While aliasing is never really a problem, there is a very slight shimmer on occasion, such as on the pattern on Fish's vest at Episode 7, 11:34, and on the buildings of the Boston City Scape at Episode 9, 20:02.
There are a few film artefacts appearing, and clear examples of these tiny white dots can be found during the Pilot, 4:57 or at Episode 8, 29:39.
There is also a little edge enhancement on display, and white halos around the characters are evident during the Pilot, 30:01 and at Episode 3, 14:41.
The DVD's content has been subtitled with Dutch, French and English (for the hearing impaired). The English subtitles are simplified, but present a clear impression of the dialogue.
All the discs are dual layered, with the layer change placed between episodes. Each episode is a separate title on each DVD.
There are two audio options: English Dolby Stereo-Surround, and French Dolby Stereo-Surround.
The dialogue quality and audio sync are excellent on the default English audio track.
The musical score is credited to Danny Lux, and Vonda Shepard provides the main theme music and most of the source music. Shepard often performs a number of well-known tunes, in her own style, which cleverly reflect plot lines and character dialogue. The scoring by Lux is fairly standard television work, except for the times when it is derivative of more famous works, such as Psycho, and the television themes from Leave It To Beaver, and Jeopardy. In addition, a number of tunes are repeatedly used with their original recording, such as Hooked On A Feeling, and the Rocky Theme. There are also the occasional church scenes which features brilliant, up-lifting Baptist gospel music.
The surround sound mix is quite front-heavy, as one might expect for a dialogue-based television program. The rear speakers are subtly used for the occasional effect, such as the elevator bells during the Pilot, 16:02, or for some ambience during the bar scenes, such as at Episode 6, 40:58. Shepard's theme music also gets piped to the rears.
The subwoofer is very, very quiet throughout, but there were a few very rare examples of re-directed bass, such as the rumble in the courtroom at Episode 1, 39:01, and the door closing at Episode 10, 22:05.
|Surround Channel Use|
Believe it or not, there are none! I imagine that this will be a very disappointing fact for fans. I find it hard to believe that an 'interview', 'commercial' or 'cast bios' couldn't be added. The Region 1 box-set (see below) contains the music video for the theme song, Searchin' My Soul by Vonda Shepard. How about trailers for some of Fox Home Entertainment's other box-sets such as The Simpsons, X-Files or Buffy?
There are a series of themed but different non-animated menus, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. They are all static and silent
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This box-set has not been released in Region 1.
However, a two-disc box set entitled Ally McBeal: Ally On Sex And The Single Life was released in Region 1, in January 2000. It contains a 'random' selection of six episodes from Season One, but in no particular order. There has been nothing released since in Region 1.
I should also note, that strangely, Season 4 (only) has been released as a box-set in Region 2.
It is clear that our Ally McBeal box-set is vastly superior to the Region 1 'version'.
Ally McBeal is a warm-hearted, idealistic show that has the same feel-good qualities of The Wonder Years. In fact, one may consider it an adult version of that show -- we have a central character who narrates the highs and lows of their turbulent life.
The video quality is very good for a television program.
The audio quality is very front-heavy, but this is perfectly acceptable for a dialogue-based television program.
There are NO extras!
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Grundig Elegance 82-2101 (82cm, 16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-545|
|Speakers||Sony SS-V315 x5; Sony SA-WMS315 subwoofer|