She's back. Finally.
Not a half-hour rerun or an hour-long repeat, an actual new episode of "Ally McBeal" airs tonight at 9 on Fox.
But something is different.
The third season premiere begins and ends familiarly enough as Ally forlornly wanders the streets of Boston alone. But in between there's barely the whiff of a plot, and its sole purpose is to set up a barrage of sex jokes.
"Ally McHorny" has supplanted former time slot occupant "Ally McBeal." What was once a sometimes-touching, sometimes-sexy, always-hilarious comedy-drama has become an excuse for sex and sex talk.
Tonight's topic is whether or not women require an emotional attachment to enjoy sex. The episode opens with a soft-core porn scene -- Ally does it with a stranger in a car wash -- that would be at home late at night on Skinamax. And this is at 9 p.m. on broadcast network television.
Elaine (Jane Krakowski) calls John Cage (Peter MacNicol) her "hot little biscuit" before putting her hands down his pants and sucking on his ear. Nelle (Portia de Rossi) tries to get John to engage in phone sex, and in a future episode she reveals her "dirtiest little fantasy" is to be spanked.
Next week Ally (Calista Flockhart) and Ling (Lucy Liu) dabble in Sapphic relations, even though the characters previously couldn't stand one another. Now they grind their bodies together on a dance floor.
How did this show become "Ally McDoMe"? Did writer/creator David E. Kelley overdose on Viagra? Or has he regressed to the state of a horny adolescent, re-creating his favorite letters to Penthouse Forum?
Sex and gender wars have always been part of "Ally McBeal," but never before has the show seemed so calculated to arouse. The first two episodes of the new season are excuses to titillate (and grab male viewers from "Monday Night Football"), as if Kelley is shouting, "Look how naughty I can be!"
"Ally McBoink" still entertains, but on a rather base level. There are funny lines from the usual suspects and a surprising plot twist involving a new job for Ally's roommate, Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson). But the show's complexity has been replaced by a dizzying array of sensational smut.
Maybe the characters will snap out of their overheated state by the third episode. If they don't, the show should be renamed "Ally McPorn."
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.