It's getting more difficult to hate 'Ally McBeal'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I was so ready to resume my Ally-hating ways during the first few minutes of tonight's season premiere of "Ally McBeal."

There's this guy with an English accent who wants Ally to live with him, and not only can't she decide, but she also can hardly speak when he asks her. Then she interrupts a staff meeting at the office by announcing that she might be a little distracted the next few days because there's this guy who wants her to live with him and she just can't decide.

And, by now, once I finish gagging, I'm lining up note cards so that I can write down and quickly organize every odious thing about this privileged, selfish little twit who looks like she learned how to put on lipstick at the Ringling Brothers Clown School.

And, then, she bumps into a new character played by Robert Downey Jr., and the malice in my heart magically melts away, and I'm actually enjoying "Ally McBeal." Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.

I won't say much about Downey's character, because to say almost anything will spoil a lovely twist on their relationship that David E. Kelley serves up at the end of the hour. But, during their encounters, watch how Downey consistently underplays his character while Calista Flockhart and virtually every other cast member play their characters over the top from beginning to end. Downey is a real actor who is selling the character rather than playing for a sitcom punch line. His presence gives the hour a dramatic ballast it desperately lacked.

I enjoyed Downey so much that, by the end of the hour, I actually agreed with an Ally "insight" delivered in voiceover. The episode ends on her in bed alone with a book talking about loneliness, and what she says is not only adult but smart.

I'm thinking now that maybe I just dreamed this, or I've seen so many bad series from Fox this year that I've lost my mind and am just flashing on mad, random scenes from television shows that never were.

If you watch "Ally" tonight, and none of this happens, don't bother calling to let me know; I'll have already checked myself into the proper facility.

'Ally McBeal'

What: Season premiere

When: Tonight at 9

Where: WBFF (Channel 45)

In brief: What a difference a little bit of Downey can make.

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