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August 11, 2020

Thinking of binging 'Ally McBeal'? Watch these three episodes first

Check out this guide before watching — or re-watching — the '90s legal comedy-drama

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Ally McBeal Hulu Courtesy/Hulu

Before streaming "Ally McBeal" – the late 90s-early 2000s comedy-drama starring Calista Flockhart – check out this guide with the series three best episodes.

When "Ally McBeal" premiered in 1997 the show quickly became known for it's episodes featuring groundbreaking explorations of sex and sexual harassment centered around its namesake character, a neurotic Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart.

Naturally, the legal comedy-drama isn't quite as forward-thinking as it once seemed, and despite its tone of female empowerment it can be incredibly sexist — particularly by today's standards. But the eccentric oddities and lovable chemistry of its core cast never stops being enjoyable. (Well, except for the last season, but we can discuss that later.)

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The show pulls the viewer into Ally McBeal's world, which is filled with fantasy sequences, oddball friends, theme songs, and that dancing baby. At the start of the series, she joins Fish & Cage, a law firm run by Richard Fish (Greg Germann) and John Cage (Peter MacNicol), and ends up working alongside her ex-boyfriend Billy (Gill Bellows) and his wife, Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith).

The show sports a non-stop circus of peculiar court cases, so we've compiled the three episodes that are among the most eccentric. It's the best way to dip your toes into the "Ally McBeal" world, especially if it's been 20 years since you've watched an episode.

For those new to "Ally McBeal," check out this guide before binge-watching the show.

How many episodes are there?

There are 112 episodes across five seasons. The show, which originally aired on FOX between 1997 and 2002, is now available to stream on Hulu. It also available through Amazon Prime.

When does it get good?

It really shines about halfway through Season 1. As the characters begin to click, the show grows stronger and their idiosyncrasies become lovable. Though, the show reaches its peak with the main cast in Season 2 with the addition of Lucy Liu as Ling Woo and Portia de Rossi as Nelle Porter. And Robert Downey Jr., pre-Iron Man days, is a pretty great addition to the main cast in Season 4.

When does it stop being good?

Le sigh. The last season can be a bit hard to watch. Without giving too much away, it's hardly the same show. James Marsden and Julianne Nicholson join the cast, and while their characters aren't inherently bad, the show's storylines take a weird turn. Also, the show loses its focus on the characters that we've grown to love over the previous four seasons.

How should you watch this series?

Ideally, you should watch it from the beginning, especially if you've never seen it before. But if you've already seen the show and you're thinking about re-watching it, ease your way back in with the three best episodes below. 

"Fool's Night Out"

Season 2, Episode 3

There's a quite a bit to love about this episode. Jennifer Holliday, most well known for starring as Effie White in "Dreamgirls" on Broadway, appears as a lovelorn choir singer, upset after her boyfriend, the minister, broke up with her. The minister acquires Fish's help after the singer begins to perform an array of non-religious songs, such as "So Tired of Being Alone" by Al Green, during church service. There's a lot of hard truths revealed in this episode, including details about Ally's former relationship with Billy. 

Honorable Mention: "Queen Bee" Season 4, Episode 21

"Love Unlimited"

Season 2, Episode 12

A man attempts to annul his nine-year marriage due to his sex addiction in this episode. The man claims he was "not of sound mind" when he married his wife and  then had three children with her. This case is definitely one that will get under your skin, but let's just say it concludes with a very satisfying ending. Bonus: Bruce Willis makes an appearance as a disgruntled therapist. Meanwhile, John and the gang get their Barry White on. 

Honorable Mention: "Angels and Blimps" Season 2 Episode 13 

"Prime Suspects"

Season 3, Episode 15

In this episode, the firm takes on its first murder trial. The defendant, who has a condition that causes him to blurt out words and make noises, is accused of murdering his boss. The case evolves into a complicated situation. Plus, Ally, Fish, and John attempt to go undercover for the first time, and, as you can imagine, it goes horribly. (And as a fair warning, don't watch the next episode unless you're ready to cry.) 

Honorable Mention: "The Man in the Bag" Season 4, Episode 8

In recent months, PhillyVoice has compiled binge-watching guides for several shows. Among them are Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Bojack Horseman, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, Futurama, 30 Rock, Rick and Morty, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The West Wing

This content and the links provided are sponsored by Hulu, independently created by PhillyVoice

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