Strong Women in “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City”

Published 17 Jan 2017

Nowadays there are many shows which feature the lives of women in the modern world and different hardships they have to go through when trying to settle with those whom they love. This theme has become particularly popular in the recent years because the style of life of people has changed radically. If 50 years ago a very common theme for the movie was family life and adventures within it, sexual revolution has changed the outlook of people very much.

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The values have changed a lot, and women started playing a completely new role in the society. Instead of being housewives who did not have a good profession and devoted most of the time to taking care of kids, a new generation of women was introduced into the society- beautiful, professional women who did not need men to support them financially. Even though the freedom which women obtained was enjoyed by them a lot, they still kept looking for their only one, a man whom to share their lives with.

Both shows “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City” share the same theme. They both deal with fates of women who have great jobs which are supposed to make them content in life but who are looking for their happiness in private life and unfortunately do not manage to find it for the moment. The difference between the shows is that in Ally McBeal, the producers are trying to attract the lion’s share of attention to the character of Ally and show all of her ups and downs in life. “Sex and the City” goes even further in trying to depict the fate of a common woman- the producers put the objective to show the fates of 4 women in the show in order to be able to capture every type of character which can be common for an image of a common woman.

Ally McBeal is just 1 type of character while in “Sex and the City” there are whole 4 characters who represent the most common types of women nowadays. Carrie who is the major character in “Sex and the City” is a journalist who is very successful but who does not manage to get married to the man who she is crazy about- Mr.Big. Samantha is a PR manager for whom there is nothing better in life than sex, and this gives her a hard time to find one and only man to share the life with. Charlotte works in an art gallery. She is a dreamer who has many restrictions in her love life but who is still looking for her prince charming. Miranda is a lawyer. She is an iron lady who has feelings only when somebody manages to arouse them in her. Ally McBeal is a successful lawyer who is still in love with Billy Thomas, the guy for whom she even went to study law and who left her alone and married another woman.

As far as the details of the shows tell, professional side plays an important role in the life of the major characters because they live their lives through their jobs. However, no matter how important that is for them, the major themes of the movies are very far from this theme. “Law plays a small role in Ally McBeal. It is clearly not a “law” show (like Law and Order), but a “relationship” show in the Friends vein. Most of the plots appear to revolve around Ally’s quest for an appropriate mate. This, I guess, should not surprise us since it is conventional wisdom that women are “relation-oriented.”

However, in focusing on the “personal” rather than the “professional”, the show’s producers are knowingly perpetuating a gender stereotype and trivializing Ally’s status as serious professional. I don’t think she’s “partner” material.” (Denvir, 1997, p.4) The producers show Ally McBeal as a part of lawyers’ world but they also show that her personal matters are much more important than professional matters. The same approach is applied in “Sex and the City”. Even though each of the heroines has an important profession, every time they talk about their lives, the topic of men comes to their mind.

The themes of the shows are very close to the real life, that is why they are widely watched by many people. “A lot of people are watching Sex and the City. An astounding 7 million people tuned in for last season’s final episode; the episodes from the first three seasons are now available on DVD and VHS. And while some critics say the series has become mainstream, seeking higher ratings through more one-liners and trivial banter, other viewers see it as one of the most politically “progressive” shows on television today, citing its depiction of four [mostly] unmarried women not only having sex, having children, having jobs, and having friends, but most noticeably, having fun too.” (Bendery, Wong, 2004, p.1).

However, some of the features of heroines depicted are very negative, and some people might avoid watching the show because it tells them a lot about themselves. “I do not watch Ally McBeal because I identify with her. I’m embarrassed for her. And I’m saddened by the struggling career women of my generation who watch the show looking for the Ally McBeal in themselves. (Some things are better off not surfacing, believe me.) Every time I talk to someone outside my demographic about the show, I feel I have to explain myself. Say Ally McBeal and they shoot me a hesitant look that ponders “Do you dodge dancing babies?” (Marino, 1998, p.2)

Even though some women do not realize in the beginning that some of the actions which they take are wrong, they immediately see that when watching the shows. To some degree, the producers of the show were doing that on purpose because the objective of the movies was trying to make the world better. Once a woman sees her image depicted in the movie, she might realize how wrong she is acting and try to change her attitude to many things. “In my opinion, Ally McBeal is just another part of the backlash against feminism. It was a man, after all, who created her – David Kelley, who writes every script.

It’s not that I don’t think a man is capable of writing a good female character. It’s just that the lovely but neurotic, reproductively obsessed Ally McBeal is hardly the type of woman the thinking man of the ’90s would pursue for a lifelong mate. She does, however, have the stuff male fantasies are made of. She is an insecure, pico-skirted, one-dimensional tart who looks for sex in every cappuccino. She needs a big, strong man to come to her rescue.” (Marino, 1998, p.3)

The fates of Carrie in “Sex and the City” and Ally McBeal are similar in regard of their unhappy love towards men. Ally McBeal gets to see her beloved Billy Thomas when she starts working at the law firm, and it becomes very hard for her to fight the feelings towards the man who broke her heart. Carrie experiences a similar situation when Mr.Big abandons her. The hardest part becomes not only seeing the ex-lover a lot but also seeing his happy wife. Carrie is a little bit licker because she doesn’t work with Mr.Big, and she can only be scared of meeting him somewhere. As she calls it, there are many places in the city which remind her of a field with many bombs on which she can step- see Mr.Big. Ally McBeal cannot avoid seeing Billy Thomas but it becomes just as hard to see his happy wife every day at work.

Carrie also gets to see Mr.Big’s wife Natasha every now and then. No matter how large Manhattan is, there is always a great possibility of running into her. There are many episodes in the movie which show how Carrie does her best to look better than Natasha, how she compares herself to her all the time. In the episode when Natasha and Carrie meet in the store when trying on clothes, Carrie cannot stop admiring Natasha’s body. This situation is very common for every woman who ever got in the same situation, therefore it’s easy to conclude that all the themes of the episodes in the movies where taken from real life. The reaction of the heroines on the events is very close to the reaction which any common woman would have. This is the detail which makes both shows very popular among everybody.

The themes of both shows are covered to the fullest due to the outstanding actresses participating in them. In both shows, the cast is very important to bring the message to the audience about what the director and producers want to say. All the heroines are very beautiful and sexy. The charm of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte cannot be doubted. Ally McBeal is not a bit less attractive than they are. “To say that the cast is charming is an understatement. The kind of chemistry involved getting the right personalities into a cast is akin to alchemy, but Ally McBeal has found a successful formula. It’s not all gimmick, with Ally’s Walter Mittyish responses to the pitfalls of life and love – being shot through the heart with arrows as Gil updates Ally on his marital situations.” (Moser, 1997, p.3).

Even though there are many similarities, there are some differences as well. If for Ally McBeal, there is Billy Thomas starting with the beginning of the movie to whom she gives her heart right away, the heroines of “Sex and the City” are more in the search process. They did not meet their only one yet, and they do not suffer too much of the loss of a new lover because they do not stay close with him for a long time. For Ally McBeal, it was a love of her life when she met Billy Thomas and she even went to study to Harvard in order to be with him. Heroines of “Sex and the City” did not have such relationships in the beginning of the movie, that is why they did not have to suffer as much. However, in some time Carrie’s fate developed very similar to Ally McBeal because the authors of the show were doing their best to bring the show as close to the reality as possible.

The question of ending the show in “Sex and the City” was a very difficult one because the authors needed to complete the job which they were developing for a very long period of time. “This last season, the one-time emotionally blocked attorney Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) settled down with husband and baby in Brooklyn. WASP socialite-turned-Jewish matron Charlotte (Kristin Davis) gave up on procreation and pursued overseas adoption.

And, least forgivably, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the sexual Duracell battery who propelled the show toward its greatest debauchery, was saddled with a loving, monogamous boyfriend and a cancer subplot (as well as a haircut that made her look like Elizabeth Taylor and not in the good way.)” (Oliphant, 2004, p. 4). As far as the fates of the heroines in the movie show, the authors did their best to bring those fates as close to the reality as they could. The way the lives of 3 heroines developed could be easily predicted because of the features of their characters.

However, the task of defining the fate of Carrie was the most difficult one since her character was much more complex than of other heroines, and her appreciation of life was different, too. “The only remaining question for the series was what to do about Carrie … The attempt to spice up the narrative with the sudden reappearance of the notorious Mr. Big (Noth), Carrie’s long-time obsession who, at regular intervals treated her like gum stuck on the sole of one of his Ferragamos, felt similarly half-hearted. Big’s reformed, or so he says. Why should our heroine have believed him, when such promises have been made and broken before?

Carrie, when it came down to it, willingly chose the fantasy over the mundane. We can’t blame her. For the past six years, we did the same.” (Oliphant, 2004, p.7). This type of ending of the movie was the most appropriate because every woman who watched the movie always hoped that in the end Carrie would find her happiness with Mr.Big. Even though there were many cons against Carrie’s union with Mr.Big, it was obvious for the show-makers that only this type of ending could appeal to the interests of the audience. Afterall, the major objective of a movie is to keep the audience satisfied and make them keep dreaming about their only one.

Both “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City” are very close to nowadays reality, and appeal to the public because people see themselves in the characters of the shows. All the heroines of the shows are strong professional women who at the same time are weak when it comes to men whom they love. Both shows give the audience an idea that no matter how successful you might be in business, you are still never going to be happy unless you find the love of your life.


  • Jacqueline Marino. Ally McBeal. Memphis Flyer. 05-18-98
  • Jennifer Bendery and Alison Wong. Sex and Our City. 22 July. 2002.
  • John Denvir. Girl lawyers and Boy Lawers. USF law School. November 1997.
  • Margaret Moser. Ally McBeal (tv). The Austin Chronicle. 12-08-1997.
  • Tim Goodman. Can “Sex” beat the Clock? Friday, July 19th, 2002. San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Tim Goodman. So long to Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and Carrie; it’s been good to know them. Friday, January 2, 2004. San Francisco Chronicle.
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