The Good Wife – “Cleaning House”

“Cleaning House”

October 19th, 2010

The Good Wife was the best new network series of last season, without a doubt: the show was smart, sophisticated, and comfortable in its balance of both procedural and serialized elements.

This season, The Good Wife is a considerably worse show, objectively speaking: the weekly plots are over-written, the serial arc has swapped character drama for fairly rote political maneuvering, and tensions which might have remained subtexts last year become baseball bat attacks this time around.

Normally, I’d chalk this up to a network note about wanting to draw in younger viewers with a more exciting product; while I do think that this is likely part of it, I’m reticent to speak too critically because I’m finding this new version of the show a whole lot of fun. This is not to say that I don’t wish that the scripts could be a bit sharper, or that the show would avoid playing so heavily to the relationships between Will and Alicia as well as Cary and Alicia, but “Cleaning House” demonstrates that there are times when manipulative plotting can be delightful enough to quell most, if not all, of my critical concerns.

I, like the writers, enjoyed Mamie Gummer’s appearance on the show last season; her performance was wonderfully off-kilter, and she joined Martha Plimpton in the “Prosecutors who deserve to Recur” camp. However, “Cleaning House” is pretty baldly an excuse to see what would happen if they were forced to work together, complete with the opportunity for Alicia to pull one over on her in the end. Both of those qualities are satisfying on some level: co-counsel is an interesting dynamic, especially with a character as difficult to read as Gummer’s, and seeing Alicia win out over her in the end is enjoyable because we like when our protagonist gets a win.

However, that moment where Alicia and Kalinda take advantage of a drugged-up co-counsel in order to get permission to introduce a witness that Kalinda magically found in a single interview with a bizarrely helpful employee – whew! – was completely ridiculous. It made it clear that the case was designed not to work as an actual case, but to highlight the most interesting dynamics between the two attorneys. This might make for engaging banter and some interesting conflicts, but it also means that the case – which, in this case, dealt with five dead rave attendees – gets lots in the shuffle.

The show has always leaned in this direction, and we’re always going to remember the attorneys or the rambunctious judges more than the clients, but what set the show apart is starting to feel like a gimmick. Tonight’s judge seemed to cross the line from funny to comical – in fact, the whole judge swapping thing is right out of a Simpsons episode, to some degree. Instead of seeming like something that would happen to an attorney just learning the ropes, a character struggling with the balance between her personal and professional lives, this felt like a television plot – the same goes for the JAG case a few weeks ago.

It’s also problematic when it seems like every scene between Will and Alicia becomes about their feelings for one another, and when Cary’s sole purpose in life seemed to be destroying Alicia and the firm he used to work for. The show’s world just seems very small in these moments, as if their personal relationships are so overpowering that their interaction can be about nothing else. That’s been a persistent problem thus far this season,a and something I do think they need to work on.

And yet, complaining seems fairly silly when I quite enjoyed “Cleaning House” – Gummer is fantastic, and I will never disapprove of Edward Herrmann appearing on my television screen. I have similar issues with Kalinda’s confrontation with Blake, in that the sudden escalation seems highly extreme for what seemed to be a fairly subtle feud between them, but the sexual tension between Archie Panjabi and Scott Porter in that confrontation made up for both the cheesy dialogue and the exaggerated actions. Similarly, I think the show needs to humanize Eli Gold more in order to make the character actually work, but Alan Cummings is so damn good that it’s hard to really complain about it.

The show has been engaging this season, but it just hasn’t been as good: I would have claimed it as one of the finest shows on television last year, whereas this year I’m more likely to suggest that people watch it because it’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour. It certainly remains more dynamic, both in its characterizations and in its performances, than most procedurals, but I think that it has been equally erratic in its sophomore session. Perhaps it is because of network pressure, or perhaps the Kings realized the sandbox they were working with and decidedly to play around.

There’s part of me which is disappointed in that decision, I can’t deny it – however, the part of me that wants something to watch on Tuesday nights is still satisfied, so even if it’s getting stupider by the episode I still think it’s a fine way to spend an hour.

Cultural Observations

  • I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the final scene since I had it spoiled for me on Twitter (when someone was, rightfully, excited about more Anika Noni Rose), but I did think that it seemed a bit strange that no one put together her involvement when they knew who DIDN’T leak the deposition. I think a cursory scene between Wendy would have been nice to make it a bit less of a complete shock and more of a misdirection.
  • Realization: Wendy Scott-Carr is to Florrick/Childs as Tommy Carcetti was to Royce/Gray.
  • It’s a bit role, but I presume that Elizabeth Reaser (best known recently for her role as Jane Doe on Grey’s Anatomy, which was pleasant until she went bonkers) will be sticking around, which I approve of.
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3 Comments

Filed under The Good Wife

3 responses to “The Good Wife – “Cleaning House”

  1. See, here’s the thing. The stupider the show gets, the more I like it. Apparently I don’t like subtle in my CBS semi-procedural law shows. (See: Blue Bloods, The Defenders.)

    That being said…I abhor what they’re doing with Cary this season. Last year his character was interesting, and fun, and a great foil for Alicia, while still having some human moments. This year he’s just a big ole boring villian. I can practically see the writers twirling their mustaches as they write his lines. How banal.

  2. Tausif Khan

    Sorry Miles I don’t have a Twitter account and I don’t know how many of your friends on Twitter watch Caprica but I would like to hear your thoughts on this weeks episode since you are so interested in identity. I felt the episode was very complicated and poorly executed but laid the groundwork for some interesting discussion. I hope you end up catching up on it and reviewing it for this blog.

    For Good Wife fans I am bored with legal shows can you give me convincing reasons as to why I should watch this one?

  3. Tausif Khan

    Sorry Miles I don’t have a Twitter account and don’t know how many of your Twitter followers watch Caprica but I was hoping you would review this weeks episode because I feel the series starts to ask questions of identity. I thought the episode was very complicated and poorly executed but very intellectually intriguing. I would definitely like to hear your thoughts on this blog.

    For Good Wife fans I am bored with legal dramas how is this show different from all the rest that make it worth watching?

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