The Oddball Parade
Air date: February 28, 2000
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

Skip summary and go straight to Josh's "Bits and Pieces"

A familiar wail echoes over the gilded rooftops of Boston, the raspy, raucous call of an unmistakable siren...Tina Turner is performing at the bar. Excited, Ally and Elaine elbow their way through the wall-to-wall ocean of people, talking about the upcoming dance contest that will be held; one lucky woman will have the opportunity to sing backup for Tina, and they each want it to be them. Ally gushes, saying that out of all the celebrities in the world, she thinks Tina is the one she's most like. Elaine tries hard to conceal her mirth, admitting (tongue firmly planted in cheek) that, when she first met Ally, she immediately thought of Tina Turner. Ally nods and continues to move to the music, refusing to hear the sarcasm in the receptionist's voice.

The next morning, Elaine and Ally shriek happily at having been entered into the contest. Billy approaches, innocently asking what all the fuss is about...trembling with exhilaration, Ally tells him about the competition, barely remembering to breathe as excitement spews from her like a ruptured firehose.

Meanwhile, John enters Richard Fish's office, clearly anxious. "We have a very difficult case today in front of Judge Walsh. Judge Walsh doesn't like you, it upsets him when your lips move and when words emerge from them," he reminds a distracted Richard. "My point is, given the nature of some of our clients, we don't need things...compounded with Fishisms." Richard says he's grown considerably as a trial lawyer, and that he can "really feel his oats in there now." Rubbing his forehead, John carefully suggests that perhaps he should keep his oats to himself on this one. Fish says he's ready - - hearing the dull clang of the cow bells - - and sends John on his way.

Elaine and Ally walk through the offices together, plotting nervously. There are going to be forty-two contestants in the competition; each will only have twenty seconds onstage before the next contestant's number is called. Elaine is number twenty-six, and Ally is number twenty-seven. As they pass by, Sandy stands up from her seat, calling out to Ally. The lawyer turns to Elaine, emitting a terrier growl in an attempt to emulate Ling, and turns back to answer the new receptionist with a forced smile on her face. Sandy just wants to thank her for her advice on pursuing the man of her this case, Billy. As they talk, Billy approaches and Ally greets him sourly, asking "what's new." He takes her arm, asking if he can steal her a minute.

In his office, Billy tell Ally that - - "in the spirit of friendship and candor" - - a lot of people will be attending the Tina Turner dance contest who know that she works at Cage/Fish, and it might create a negative image for the firm. Astonished, she challenges his "firm reputation" speech, pointing out all of his recent outlandish behavior. "I've been acting crazy, acting out, I admit it," he says. "Are you?" Horrified at having her last parade rained upon, she asks how he can judge her when he's running around with his secretary. "What is she, nineteen?" Ally sneers. Billy reminds her that she was obviously the one who advised Sandy to pursue a relationship with him in the first place. Sputtering, Ally retorts that she told Sandy to pursue LOVE, and that not only is it probably insane for her to get involved with him, but what upsets her more is him getting involved with her..."What is she, nineteen?!!?" she asks again, becoming hysterical. Unable to take it anymore, Billy yells angrily that Sandy is twenty-five and a good woman, but Ally is unimpressed. She storms out, haughtily saying that - - "in the spirit of friendship and candor" - - she can see his roots.

At the courthouse, a large black man with a mustache - - wearing a conservative dress, a blonde wig and high heels - - is sitting in the witness stand, saying that he just feels more natural in women's clothes because he feels that he is a woman trapped in a man's body. John is questioning him in front of the judge and jury, clarifying that the man's employer, Mr. Schoefield, fired him because of his the man starts to answer, another man sitting at the plaintiff's table with Richard and several others begins to clap his hands spasmodically. Judge Walsh looks up sternly, and John reminds the court that the man (one Mr. Potts) has an uncontrollable compulsive disorder and thus claps his hands on occasion. John goes back to questioning Mr. Vault, the man on the witness stand, who says that psychologists have told him that his is a medical condition, and that he has a fetish for wearing women's clothes...and he was fired anyway. The opposing attorney cross-examines Mr. Vault, mentioning that the firm owned by Mr. Schoefield was a graphic design company and asking if potential clients who visited the offices had ever stared at him due to his freakish appearance. "Not for long, they don't," he replies ominously. Mr. Potts twitches, clapping his hands.

Elaine is in Ally's office, blaring Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" on a portable tape player and shaking her hips happily to the song. Ally enters and, her face twisting in disgust, she stomps over and shuts off the music. She asks Elaine if she should even be entering the contest. When the receptionist becomes defensive and asks why, Ally says that she's always thought of her as more of a Liza Minelli than a Tina Turner. Elaine's face falls and, crushed, she says she'll practice elsewhere. As she leaves, Billy enters, quietly apologizing and saying he had no right to criticize her. She coyly apologizes too for picking on his "teenager friend." Smiling, he asks if his being with Sandy bothers her. She denies it at first...then concedes that yes, even though she's over him, it still gets to her when she sees him with someone else. He admits that he feels the same way, and there is a pregnant silence between them before she nervously stands, saying she'd better practice for the contest so she can beat Elaine. "Don't you find this contest just a LITTLE silly?" Billy asks. She says she's become a big fan of silly lately. He reminds her of how mortified she was when she lost the bet to Renee and had to get up on stage in the bar and tell and joke, and now she's going to try to shake like Tina Turner. Ally says that, a few years ago, she didn't have the need she has escape her life as a working professional, with her suits and her briefcases and papers, and be something special.

Back in court, Mr. Potts is on the stand, saying that he claps and cleans compulsively and even has a speech impediment that will occasionally make him repeat a word three times...but none of this makes him a bad worker. "And when Mr. Schoefield fired you," Richard asks, "did he give you a reason, reason, reason?" "Reason! Reason!" Potts blurts out uncontrollably, twitching; he apologizes, saying that someone else repeating a word can trigger it. "He said it made the clients nervous," the man says meekly, "but it never affected the job. I draw pictures, I design, my design work was never a subject of criticism."

Ally is having second thoughts about entering the contest...she's a lawyer, and she should act like one. Elaine tries to convince her that she should dance, reminding her that she's wanted to meet Tina Turner her entire life. They pass Billy on the stairs, and Elaine asks him what he thinks Ally should do. He says that she should dance, and Elaine nods in agreement, leaving them alone. She says that she'd be embarrassing the firm... "And you want to do it," he says, grinning. "A wise woman told me last year that it's better to regret the things you did than the things you didn't do." He asks what's in her heart, and she admits that she wants to dance. "Then dance," he insists quietly, walking away and leaving her alone with her thoughts.

The plaintiffs in the case are in a room together, bickering as they wait for John to come in with news of settlement negotiation with the opposing counsel. He enters with Richard, who says that they've been offered seventy-five thousand each to drop the lawsuit. Disappointed, the room full of outcasts become hostile. "Can I be honest?" John asks earnestly. "No, lie to us, you little bug!" Vault snarls. "Bug! Bug! Bug!" Potts stammers. Richard tries to keep the peace, as John's lips pull back into the familiar defensive smile. When Richard tries to convince them that at least seventy-five is something, they refuse, saying that they spent years at that graphic design firm. They worked hard, and they won't walk away for seventy-five. They don't have families, or well-rounded lives...their lives were their work, and their families were the people they worked with. John understands, and agrees to continue. As they leave, Vault apologizes to John, telling him that all of them are very sensitive about this battle because they were not allowed to march in the company parade because Schoefield didn't want the public seeing them. This story touches a nerve with John, and he stiffens with a new determination to fight alongside them.

In the courtroom, more plaintiffs take the stand - - an obese woman and a shy man named Mr. Winter in a bow tie - - to talk about how it became less about the quality of their work as Mr. Schoefield began to bring clients in to see the company offices. Schoefield called a meeting with them, saying that they "weren't working out" because their clients thought they were weirdos. Winter says that it wasn't right, that they helped build the company and that they were fired just because Schoefield didn't want them to be seen. Opposing counsel asks Winter if one of their job functions was to build and expand the client base. He admits that it was, and the lawyer asks if they did that...Winter says that they would have if given the chance, but counsel pushes on, insisting that it was their responsibility to cultivate new business and they were unable to do so.

Night falls, and the first strains of "Proud Mary" are strummed as the contestants wait their turn at the bar. Meanwhile, John and Richard watch television upstairs...the network news reporters are interviewing Richard outside the courthouse. He is saying that Boston is the city of ugly people and misfits, and that because of this, the ignominy of their clients' situation affects all of them. As John cringes, Richard points at the screen, gleefully reminding him that their jury is probably watching. John indignantly says that Richard's behavior was absurd, and that public opinion is now against them. Richard senses that something is wrong; he asks if this case is hitting too close to home for him, saying that John has always had a special place in his heart for oddballs because he is one. John is troubled. Downstairs, the competition begins, and the contestants are dancing fiercely for the honor of singing backup for Tina Turner, who looks on...bored by some contestants, amused by others. When it's Elaine's turn, she steps up in a costume that includes a shiny silver mini skirt slit up both thighs and displays not only a sensationally sleek body and a bubbly personality, but dancing talent that sparkles like a fine champagne. Ally's number is called next. The lawyer steps onto the stage and slowly begins to move her hips to the pulsing rhythm, growing in speed and intensity, her expression solemn and enigmatic as she grows more confident. The room breaks out in applause and howls of encouragement. At the end of the evening, the winner is announced...contestant number twenty-seven, Ally McBeal. Ally is shocked and speechless as Elaine applauds politely, heartbroken.

The next morning, a strange audience gathers in the courtroom...Bostonians who are peculiarly dressed, have bizarre medical conditions or merely look strange. People who can only be described as "oddballs," who saw Richard on television and came to show their support.

Meanwhile, Elaine is in Ally's office, straightening papers with a disappointed expression. When Ally tries to reassure the receptionist that her dancing was excellent, Elaine tersely says that Ally was obviously better. "Are you disappointed that you didn't win...or that I did?" Ally asks. Elaine admits that it's both, saying that she's always believed that she has this one thing - - her dancing - - that she's better at than Ally is, and so, she resents Ally's victory. The lawyer tries to cheer her up, but Elaine insists that she's fine, promising that she'll be there cheering for Ally as she leaves the office. Ling listens to this exchange from outside, her face unreadable.

On the stand, Schoefield says that he liked all of the plaintiffs, that they were good workers; but the company changed, and these workers were alienating potential clients. When the judge asks him to clarify how, he singles out each of them: "Well, Paul clapping his hands all day, and Mindy is obese, and come people unfortunately associate that with laziness...Vinnie's face scares children, and Matthew's in a dress." He says that he has statistical proof that his business was negatively affected by these workers, and that even though it wasn't fair that he had to fire them, he had to run his business the best way he saw fit.

John jumps up, springing forward with a voice like a dissecting dentist's drill and the demeanor of a pit bull as he attacks Schoefield on the stand. "So you just fire them! Never mind years of company service...they look like oddballs, just fire the bastards!" Opposing counsel objects, but John immediately withdraws and attacks again more fiercely, asking if he considers it prejudiced to judge workers based on looks or to respond to such prejudices in clients. When John tries to hammer the point home that none of their design work suffered due to their oddities, Schoefield says that it's not all about the product in business, it's about selling. "Selling! Selling! Selling!" Paul convulses, as John continues to hack at the executive ruthlessly, nearly foaming at the mouth as he accuses Schoefield of firing them just because they were oddballs. "You said that, not me," the businessman replies coolly. John retreats, a look of satisfaction on his face.

Richard and the plaintiffs follow John from the courtroom, all clamoring at once about how he lost control during his cross-examination; that he was clearly vicious and acting, not in the best interests of their clients, but from some personal vendetta. "Balls!" John yells at them, irritated. "Don't you people dare tell me how to try this case! That man is a defendant! If I don't get him, we'll lose!" Richard asks them all to leave so he can talk to John alone. They exit, Paul sobbing, "Balls! Balls! Balls!" like the bark of a trained seal. Richard asks John what's wrong, and John admits that this case has him fraught...but he refuses to say why, pushing past Richard to leave.

As the Cage/Fish clan wait at their table for the show to start, Tina Turner's personal assistant approaches Elaine, whispering in her ear that Tina thought SHE was the best dancer...she only chose Ally because she doesn't like to be upstaged. Elaine smiles and the assistant goes back to her duties, pausing to trade a knowing glance with Ling before going on her way. The lights dim and the legend herself, Tina Turner, begins to perform onstage. Ally sings backup with the other girls behind Tina, grooving to the music happily until she looks out into the audience and sees Billy applauding for her. She becomes visibly uncomfortable. When she looks out again, there are five Billys cheering at the table...then ten...then the entire room is full of them, dancing and clapping.

The next day, everyone swarms around the disheveled Ally, wanting to congratulate her on her performance. She waves them away sourly, going into her office and slamming the door.

Back at the courthouse, it's time for closing statements from the attorneys. John tells the jury the story of how, when he was a child, he had a group of friends he would do everything with...but as they grew older and became teenagers, being "cool" was important, and because he was not widely considered cool, his friends moved on and he was alone. "It's tough being a kid," he says. "Kids can be cruel." This was why he welcomed growing up. Adults don't judge each other the way children do; when you're an adult, being cool doesn't matter and you're judged, not by the superficial parameters of children, but only by the quality of your work. He says that he is fortunate to have met these four ex-employees of Mr. Schoefield. Yes, they were funny-looking, and as a result they were probably picked on mercilessly as children. But thank God they're adults now! They live in a world where people, if they do their jobs well, don't get fired!

Opposing counsel agrees that yes, being an adult means living in the world of opportunity...the opportunity to establish one's own business and, with that, hire and fire as you see fit. The world of graphic design is such that it doesn't begin and end with portfolios and the finished product. Clients want to see who's behind the designs, to make sure that the designers themselves are cool, and presentation is key. The four plaintiffs were simply unable to cultivate new business. It's that simple.

Ally is hammering away at the side of a bathroom stall with a pair of oversized boxing gloves. Nelle walks in, asking if she can help. "No!" Ally growls, returning to her peculiar form of exercise. Nelle says that this is the problem with having a night like Ally has, where she gets to pretend to be someone else...eventually, you realize that you have to face who you really are once again, and it's devastating. Ally think about this for a moment, then belts Nelle savagely with one of the boxing gloves, sending her sprawling backward as Billy walks in. He demands to know what's going on, and she screams at him to go away. "What, are you gonna hit me too?" he asks. Without hesitation, she slams him with a vicious right cross.

He pulls her into his office, waiting for an explanation. She tells him what she saw at the bar when she was performing. "The last thing I want to be fantasizing about is you!" she wails, reminding him about how Tina's song last night was about anger and heartache. Deep down, she's angry because he left her AGAIN, becoming the New Billy and ruining their friendship so that now they don't even have that anymore. But what hurts her the most is that, no matter how awful he acts, he still has the ability to see inside her in a way that's undeniable. She wants his friendship back. He suggests that they just start talking again...about their lives, about what's been going on lately, starting with this past month. "My friendship with you, it's everything," Billy says, apologizing for going off the way he has. "I'm back," he says solemnly.

The jury has reached a verdict...and they've found in favor of the defendant. The courtroom reacts, disappointed. John stands, addressing the entire room full of outcasts, misfits and oddballs. "You people fought for yourselves, and I was proud to fight with you," he says. "You know, sometimes there is triumph in the battle alone. There will be a victory parade immediately following starting at the front of the court house, and I invite you all to join." Vault points out that they have no band, and John asks Paul to set the beat, telling the crowd to feel the music...and sure enough, a brass band version of Barry White ripples through them as they sway and dance to the music.

The strange collection of people surge down the court house steps...waltzing down the street, led by John and Richard.


* First, let me just apologize for having been so late with this summary and review, this week's been exceptionally hectic for me and between college, studying for midterms and working - - not to mention preparing for my big video production debut this coming Saturday - - I've barely had a moment to myself. Indeed, I've been forced to steal the after-midnight hours to finish, and it's after five in the morning as of this writing. Nevertheless, I know how many people depend on this summary to get the weekly dose of Ally McBeal's world, and so I offer my most sincere apologies for having kept you waiting. I shall do my very best to keep such a delay from happening again in the future.

* Overall impressions first...I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, and I really feel like the show's come "back" from the slump everyone was talking about for a while there. Not only was this case fascinating, thought-provoking and perfectly written, but it was a departure from the increasingly-generic fare of sexual harassment lawsuits that have functioned as the courtroom aspect of the show while the heavier storytelling was focused on Ally's private life.

* What can I say about John Cage - - and Peter MacNichol's genius - - that I haven't already said? What a brilliant, tortured character Kelley has created, so utterly frustrated and insecure. Rarely have I found a character in fiction capable of moving me so deeply.

* At the risk of sounding sexist or like a hypocrite, is anyone else utterly, jaw-droppingly astounded by Jane Krakowski? Not only is she gorgeous, beautifully-built and unbelievably sexy (not necessarily as Elaine, because she's such a desperate and lonely character that any sex appeal is overwhelmed by the heartache we feel for her, but just in general)...this woman is an amazing actress AND a sensational dancer! Talk about incredible!

* I don't know how I felt about Tina Turner in this episode. Yeah, I suppose she sort of provided an interesting plot device, and the music was a nice little change from the usual Vonda...but it seemed so contrived somehow, and I sort of got the feeling that Tina herself didn't even really know what she was supposed to be doing there exactly. And I was raised on the woman's music, so that was a bit disappointing for me.

* We're shown once more that Ling's instantly-satisfied whims of viciousness (tripping the contestant) are matched her instantly-satisfied whims of kindness (boosting Elaine's self-esteem). Curiouser and curiouser...

* My happiness at Billy's decision to stop acting out and really get to the core of himself was immediately extinguished by the fact that he's leaving the show after this season. Damn! Just when he was becoming three-dimensional and interesting!

* ...and Georgia, too! DOUBLE damn!

* As always, feel free to write with questions, suggestions, ideas or opinions. My e-mail address is - - I'll see you next time!

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