Every so often a new sitcom or drama hits prime time television and becomes the rage. Normally it starts with rave reviews from TV critics, which drive puff-piece People magazine and "Entertainment Tonight" stories, which in turn drive audiences to the program. When all the plugs are firing correctly the resulting combustion brings about the "hit," the craze du jour which best defines the popular culture's taste at that given point in time.
The newest rage is Fox's "Ally McBeal," and what this says about the state of popular culture today is rather dreadful.
In the October 25 season premiere, Ally, a thirtyish lawyer, has sexual intercourse with a man she has, absolutely literally, just met. She's a customer at a car wash, and he's an attendant there. They exchange meaningful looks, and a moment later, in the middle of the wash, they copulate. All of this takes place without a word ever exchanged.
Sex as a purely physical experience is supposed to be the quintessential male fantasy. But this is 1999, so Ally must make it clear that she greatly enjoyed herself, too. After telling a colleague what happened, she adds, "I know I should feel shame, or guilt, but all I feel [is that] I just want to drive back [to the car wash]. And I know I used the term 'make love,' but it wasn't that, John. It was that other word. That vulgar verb we use to describe what two people... That's what we were doing, and that's what I want to do to him again. That vulgar verb."
More sexcapades shortly follow when a young, engaged woman seeks the law firm's help. It seems her minister, having discovered her coitally entwined with a man other than her fiance, has declared he will neither perform her wedding ceremony nor allow it to take place in his church.
After a male judge describes the woman's dalliance as immoral and refuses to overturn the minister's pronouncement, Ally's co-counsel delivers this mini-diatribe against religion: "It's unreasonable for this minister or any [clergyman] to demand morality from a parishioner. The church makes its money off the threat of hell. If people weren't out there committing sins, they wouldn't be running to church, seeking forgiveness, and throwing money in the coffers."
Co-counsel's not through yet: "I should also like to point out nobody frowns on a man when he slips at a bachelor party. The ministers are usually right there slipping with him.This is.gender discrimination, and I won't stand for it. Women love sex. They love to think it, dream and talk about it." He pointedly quips to the judge, "I'd like you to walk a mile in [the engaged woman's] diaphragm."
And, just before the episode concludes, there's a bedroom scene involving two more attorneys from the firm, with Barry White crooning on the soundtrack, "Tonight, when we make love/ I'm gonna work your body with my tongue/.Tease me with your emotion/Soon we'll share nature's body lotion."
The next week, moments after a Fox announcer intones, "Now, the most erotic 'Ally McBeal' ever," Ally remarks, "As a general rule, the idea of kissing another woman grosses me out. Ick. But sometimes, the idea of kissing certain women doesn't gross me out."
That's lucky for Ling, Ally's female colleague, who admits to Ally that she had a dream about kissing her. They wind up smooching for approximately twenty seconds. Afterwards, Ling muses, "That didn't suck." "Not at all," says Ally. "One more?" asks Ling. Fade to black as their lips meet again.
Ultimately, both women agree that even though their little makeout session was pleasant, there was, in Ally's words, "that one missing ingredient you need for the tingle."
Ling: "And we both know what that is, don't we?"
Both, in unison: "Penis."
Ling: "But I'm glad we did it."
Ally: "So am I."
There's also a subplot concerning a woman's fantasy about being spanked in a sexual context, and a scene in which a male lawyer enlists a very willing female co-worker to prep him for sex with his girlfriend. Her efforts include first licking and lightly biting his ear, then caressing his crotch as she sultrily praises his "hot, hot sausage."
Last season, "Ally McBeal" won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series. Based on the apparent tastes of today's popular culture, the award was well deserved.