Season Three of Ally McBeal marked a downward trend for the popular show. Its ratings were flagging and it seemed its audience was tiring of Ally and company's surreal shenanigans.
Season Four changed all that. The two sock-o romantic stories which opened the season didn’t hurt. First there was Ally’s emotional breakup with Brian, then her rebound romance with an older man AND his son. But true love reared its head the minute Larry Paul entered the picture. Their relationship got off to a fabulous start with Ally mistaking Larry for a therapist setting up his practice in her law firm’s office building. Her assumption inspired her to confide her relationship troubles to him before discovering he was a lawyer, just like her. So began the most fun, romantic, heartbreaking romance in the history of the show.
Robert Downey, Jr., who up until this point was exclusively a film actor, played Ally’s love interest, Larry. These two had chemistry with a capital 'C'. Their scenes crackled and sizzled and lit up the screen; it wouldn’t have been a total surprise if they crashed and burned. Eventually their end did come but it wasn’t nearly as explosive. It might have been better if it was.
The season had its share of strangeness: from Mark Albert (James LeGros) falling for a transexual (played with astonishing believability by Lisa Edelstein), who revealed the truth about herself to Mark in a subtle yet powerful way. John Cage, the shy, nose whistling wimp (except in the courtroom, where he was powerful and eloquent) attempted to impress his love interest, Kimmie, by acting the rock star on the stage of the local bar. Talk about going against character! John later took up with Melanie (Ann Heche), who suffered from Tourettes.
Barry Manilow and Sting made appearances: Barry as one of Ally’s hallucinations, and Sting as a client of Larry Paul.
As in past seasons, music played a big role. Vonda Shepard was the house diva, while members of the cast took their turn at the bar’s mic. Then there was Larry Paul at the piano turning in a version of Joni Mitchell’s "River", which was poignant and heartbreaking, foreshadowing the sadness of the season finale.
Through it all, the best scenes belonged to Ally and Larry. The fact that Larry missed his son, who lived with his ex in Detroit, was a major obstacle in the Larry-Ally relationship. Eventually they worked it out and the producers planned to have the couple wed during the season finale. In the end, the title of that finale episode, The Wedding, was all that remained of the producers’ good intentions. Robert Downey, Jr.’s sudden departure from the show (stemming from his drug problems and subsequent arrest) forced the writers to come up with an alternate ending at the eleventh hour.