TV Education: Ally McBeal and Scrubs

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In his article, “Getting into Ally’s Head,” Greg Smith goes into thorough explanation of the special effects used in Ally McBeal. He writes, “The primary function of digital effects in Ally McBeal is to reveal inner states: feelings, thoughts, fantasies” (50). While Smith states that these effects make the show’s world more “Ally-centric” (47), even though the effects sometimes happen in scene where Ally is absent.

For example, in the penultimate episode of season two, “Love’s Illusions,” when Ling enters the law office, The Wizard of Oz theme for the Wicked Witch plays. However, Ally is not in this scene so the non-diegetic music is not in her head. This is an example of how the show maintains Ally’s imagined world even when she is not there, constantly tying the show back to her.

3x14_Turk's_moleThis trend can also be found in Scrubs, a show that Smith has noted took several cues from Ally McBeal in terms of digital imaginings. The episode “My Screw-Up” may be narrated by J.D., but one of the most notable special effects in this episode is the animation of Turk’s mole, which speaks to Carla, not J.D. Most of the fantasies in Scrubs do belong to J.D., just like the fantasies of child and teenaged Ally, and singing Al Green, belong to Ally in Ally McBeal. The two shows are similar in the sense that while other characters are given fantasies and imaginings that are played out for the audience, these sequences tie back to the main characters and heighten their inner world.

149745“My Screw-Up,” however, does have a very clear exception. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Jordan’s brother and Dr. Cox’s best friend, Ben, has died, but Dr. Cox is still speaking with him. This fantasy is not played up with digital effects or as a recognizable hallucination, effectively separating it from J.D.’s world and making it distinctly the property of Dr. Cox. This also sets a very different tone for this fantasy, as it is not whimsical but very heartbreaking.

The point is this: while Ally McBeal and Scrubs are both often lighthearted shows, they do also descend into the sadder areas of life. When this change in tone happens, these shows maintain their dedication to digital imaginings to enhance the world of the characters, whether they be funny or unhappy.

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