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Television

Must-End TV

Mulder, Scully, and Ally Finally Go Away

By Craig D. Lindsay | Posted 5/15/2002

The X-Files

As every TV season comes to a close, we look to see which new shows will get renewed and which long-running shows we'll bid a fond adieu. But lately, it seems many veteran prime-time programs are being kept on the air out of respect (and the easy ratings they pick up) rather than whether or not the show is still good.

ER, that nighttime soap in medical-drama scrubs, has become way too melodramatic to be taken seriously. NYPD Blue has gone through so many cast changes that even Dennis Franz looks befuddled by all the new faces that wander into the precinct house. Dawson's Creek is still on the air mainly so guys can get their weekly Katie Holmes fix. Frasier and The Drew Carey Show are two drained sitcoms that go by the rule that if you keep it repetitious, it'll stay on the air. Hell, even the much-beloved The Simpsons, a show Fox keeps around like an old Trans Am out on the front lawn (cool to look at, but the motor is shot to hell), should have left quietly some time ago.

At least two of Fox's most successful shows, The X-Files and Ally McBeal, are rightfully vacating the premises. Although The X-Files' producers decided on their own that it was time to go, Ally was told to get out by the network. It's still comforting to know there are people who knew when to pull the plug on these programs.

It'll be most disappointing to see The X-Files end--it's still one of the most fluid dramas ever shown on network television. It was often amazing to witness the graceful direction and tense, engulfing storytelling this show could conjure in an hour. Even when the show occasionally slipped, sending its two bold government agents, believer Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and skeptic Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), on silly excursions (remember that black-and-white episode when they traveled to a small town to check out a modern-day Frankenstein with a love for Cher music?), it was still quite riveting.

The X-Files is--and don't take this the wrong way--a geek's show. This sci-fi/mystery/drama gumbo couldn't have come along at a better time when it debuted in fall of 1993, at the dawn of the popularity of the Internet, where conspiracy theories, urban legends, and other trivial phenomena flourish. Also, Mulder or Scully may have been easy on the eyes, but they were lonely outcasts, which made them sympathetic to the show's core audience. The X-Files began to lose touch with that audience these past couple of seasons, when it introduced a junior team of sexy, extroverted agents (Robert Patrick's stubborn but studly John Doggett and Annabeth Gish's slinky Monica Reyes) to the fray. But it's safe to say that even before they showed up, The X-Files was beginning to run out of weird shit to investigate, which is actually sort of a good thing. How many telepathic, government-engineered serial killers with alien DNA can they chase before it just got boring?

While folks will be mourning the loss of The X-Files when it bows Sunday, May 19, the same probably can't be said for Ally McBeal, whose last episode airs Monday, May 20. It's a farewell many critics have long been eagerly awaiting. ("Take this woman off television," Anna Gates requested in a recent New York Times piece. "Please.") Indeed, bashing Ally McBeal in its final days almost seems de rigeur for people who found the show's highly exaggerated view of single, urban living loathsome.

The witty unpredictability that the show ushered in when it first aired soon gorged on itself like a flesh-eating virus. What was once a cute little program about a cute little woman (wonderwaif Calista Flockhart) with cute little problems and insecurities soon morphed into a whacked-out, grating yuppie farce. The supporting characters were equipped with odd names (Richard Fish, Jackson Duper) and even odder character traits (John Cage and his whistling nose, remote-control toilet flusher, and Barry White fixation). They were also shallow, pathetic characters whose unnerving tendency to stay pretentious, whiny, and childish even in the face of crisis made them even more worthy of a thorough ass-kicking. And at the head of the class was Ally, a selfish, immature, deeply disturbed nitwit of a girl; if you worked with her, she'd be tagged around the office as "the crazy one."

Ally represents the worst of what David E. Kelley has to offer as a TV auteur. Anyone who has followed Kelley's career, from his days crafting memorably bizarre moments on L.A. Law to overseeing his own freaky happenings on shows such as Picket Fences and The Practice, knows the man truly comes alive when he spotlights flashes of human flakiness. Not since the heyday of David Lynch's Twin Peaks or Seinfeld's evil genius Larry David has there been a TV writer/producer who relied on the art of the personal quirk more steadily than Kelley. But he overexceeded the quirk quotient with Ally. It's a show that's all quirk, no character. He may have created Ally as a surreal, absurdist take on attractive, neurotic thirtysomethings and their tendencies to make mountains out of molehills. But the lack of humanity that ran rampant throughout this program's five-season run exposes the one thing the show never had: a soul.

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