The Words on the Page

Ally McBeal

February 7, 2017

Ally McBeal

Written by David E. Kelley

Full Blue Draft - August 1997

Dramatic Pilot, 46 pages

 

"Tell me I'm wrong." - Ally

 

Ally McBeal is, without a doubt, one of the best scripts I've ever read. The language is immediately evocative and even the flashes/hallucinations/imaginings of Ally's mind, like arrows hitting Billy or Elaine's head growing, can be easily pictured.

 

The episode starts of a lengthy voiceover, a technique I'm not always a fan of, but in this case it works well. The image of two seven-years-old sniffing each other's butts is just weird enough to hold my attention, and I immediately know that this relationship, this love, is special and unique. I also know this is Ally's story, and, just in case I've missed it, Kelley spells it out for me: "Voiceovers throughout will be hers and only hers." Something else I noticed is that Kelley underlines words in the dialogue quite often. The emphasis could feel like a line reading, but it is so skillfully done that it sounds... natural. It feels right.

 

The larger reason the voiceovers work for me is that they let us into Ally's inner life. "What was that?" Through them, we learn what she is thinking, and we experience it with her. Ally is not the most confident of characters. She often vacillates between two points, seems to have trouble making up her mind, and appears a bit insecure. She hallucinates. She's weird. She's wonderful.

 

While this is, technically, a drama, a lot of comedy is used, and it keeps the story moving. This was a very compelling, extremely easy, quite quick read. Part of the fun comes from those flashes/hallucinations. "FLASH of a ball going splat on Ally." "The image on the mirror changes to reflect Ally with bigger breasts. It then shifts to bigger breasts; then to huge breasts." "Elaine's head, as she speaks, grows bigger and bigger." "FLASH CUT of Ally and Billy making love in a giant cup of coffee." Yes, they're funny, but they're real. They're true. Who hasn't imagined something like this? In a sense, it's almost a kind of wish fulfillment that never quite works out. It simultaneously lets up isn't Ally's mind and cements her as an ordinary person. It's brilliant.

 

I'm a big fan of Ally McBeal, and the script is just as wonderful as the show itself. I'm a fan of Kelley's work overall and have enjoyed many of his brainchildren, including Monday Mornings and the Crazy Ones. This script though, I think, remains my favorite.

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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