Memo to Mr. Kelley: Oh, Please Keep the Romance

Imagine our chagrin--as the world turns to the 36-year-old actor's latest meltdown--that our thoughts turned to a fictional character, the namesake of Fox-TV's "Ally McBeal," in which Downey co-stars. Ally is a 30-something career woman, single, neurotic, idiosyncratic, self-absorbed, sometimes mean. (Someone not unlike us, if you must break it down.) A quirk of a woman who finally, gloriously, improbably finds The One, an equally feisty character named Larry, who is so inhabited by Downey that the couple transcended the TV boundaries that had been firmly fixed in our minds.

They became real, true love incarnate, the Downey and Calista Flockhart characters, and we would never have to watch Ally's tender heart ache again. (Thank you, David E. Kelley, we would mentally mouth to the show's executive producer each week.)

And then a girlfriend called us from Washington, D.C., after hearing on the TV news that Downey had been arrested near a rundown motel Tuesday just after midnight. "Poor Ally," she sighed. So did other fans of "Ally McBeal" in Internet chat rooms, with angst over Downey's woes and his future on the show. "Ah, crap. What will become of us?" wrote one exasperated fan. The scenes Downey shot before his arrest could be incorporated into the season finale, a Fox spokesman said.

But the producers aren't saying how they will explain Larry's absence from the show, or whether they'll bring Downey back next year, posing, we fear, a threat to the TV love we believed to be real. (Wanted to believe, anyway, in our troubling ability to blur fiction and reality.)

Oh, Larry, you sprang into Ally's life and our hearts, holding out the most enduring of notions like a fistful of wildflowers, and now, you're poised to snatch that bouquet back. You convinced Ally and us--a tough, high-maintenance crowd--that everything begins and ends with love. Look at the magic you worked on Ally. Hallucinations curbed. No more sleeping with an inflatable male doll or obsessing over her curiously boring childhood sweetheart, Billy.

The show had been stumbling since Billy's unexpected death. But this season, the electricity between Downey and Flockhart energized the series, and we're not the only ones who noticed. Ratings shot up. Downey won a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award, and sure, it was a nod of support for a bad boy on the mend and talented actor, but it was also, we like to think, implicit approval of the romance in the idea that two people on this planet could be destined only for each other.

So, with hearts in our hands, we beg Kelley, who goes home every night to--hello!--Michelle Pfeiffer: Don't toy with us. You can't transform Ally brick by brick, into a centered, content person with love in her life and then topple your Legos in some TV-land kind of way. Don't kill Larry off or make him yet another Ally hallucination. Yes, we know your hands are tied, somewhat, with Downey's future in limbo (he's in a drug rehabilitation clinic indefinitely) and contractual considerations, etc.

But could we gently remind you how Larry looked Ally in the eye and told her that he will stay with her forever? We're just saying, Mr. Kelley, handsome Mr. Kelley, talented Mr. Kelley, could you at least keep the door open on those two crazy-in-love kids?

And (violin crescendo here, hold the fade to black)--Larry, Mr. Downey, Larry, whoever: You match Ally's every stare, every quip, every eccentricity with such ease and softness, how could she not love you? How could we not love you? How could we ever say goodbye?


(c) L.A. TIMES