September 29th, 2009
I’m on the record as suggesting that The Good Wife’s pilot was one of the most accomplished of the fall season, delivering a clever take on the legal procedural that emphasized but didn’t contrive a personal story for Alicia Florrick, part rusty trial attorney and part struggling wife of a shamed politician serving behind bars. The pilot was sharp in how it weaved the two worlds together, both her new job and her life balancing shame and anger, and the show has a pretty bangup cast.
As always, it’s interesting to see how a second episode reacts to the pilot, especially with a procedural where the “hook” of the show seems like something that might only exist in the first episode before being slowly phased out with time. However, with “Stripped,” it becomes clear that The Good Wife is not going to be a show that sees Alicia’s husband or his infidelity fade into the background, which is both good in the long term and perhaps somewhat awkward in the short term.
The core of the series, the integration between her personal life and her job, remains an interesting combination of workplace drama and Alicia’s personal struggle. However, the way that the episode brought her husband’s stripper past into the story was less graceful than it was in the pilot, forcing things into the open by conveniently introducing a stripped-based rape case into the proceedings. It’s not ineffective, per se, but it feels somewhat more forced than it was before, and feels almost like a second pilot as opposed to an example of what the show will do in the future…but a second good pilot.
You can start to see some patterns emerging from the show in the episodes, things which appear to be signatures. The first is that the judges are clearly going to be characters in their own right: while shows like Law & Order often use different judges to create different moods, and a show like TNT’s Raising the Bar focuses on a judge in particular, in this instance they appear to be using them as a chance for some noted actors to stop by and delivering some engaging performances. Denis O’Hare plays Judge Abernathy as a complex judge who seems to twit back and forth, fearful of his extremely liberal perspective being too clear in his decisions. I liked how the judge’s inconsistency upended their strategy: he granted every motion at the beginning of the cast, but then started limiting their questioning once they got into the trial itself. The show likes its judges kooky but fair: he was ultimately right in his judgment of the civil case, and in his decision on the contaminated DNA, even if he was ruling against our “heroes” in the process.
The other thing we got to see is the involvement of Titus Welliver (which is always a plus) as the State’s Attorney’s office made itself part of the case. While it played out a bit like a repeat of the pilot, with Childs claiming that Alicia got this case from her husband only for Alicia to later discover that she effectively did, it demonstrated how even a civil case can see an impact from that department. Like with the pilot, I like seeing a logical scenario whereby these two offices would be involved, and that part of the show really gives the cases themselves an interesting dynamic. When Childs swept in to take over the case, with stronger evidence and a likely chance at conviction, he wanted it to be some sort of victory over Alicia, but her concern is only justice. She obviously dislikes the man for what he did, but his perception of her trying to embarrass him is quite out of line: she just wants to find justice for this girl, as we as an audience do, which feels quite genuine and is something the show can get some mileage out of.
However, the case itself was a bit frustrating for how it forced things out of Alicia, having her visit a high-end callgirl service (where she learns pricing and preferences) and even insinuating that the client Christie was one of the girls that Peter slept with. The episode remains fuzzy on that fact, never quite confirming whether it was her paranoia or actual fact, but it still kind of made those elements of the show too apparent, and too forced. I understand that Peter will always remain a part of the show, whether it’s Alicia trying to get through the entire audio file released to the press or her kids intercepting a set of pictures at their front door which her son believes could well prove that the evidence has been doctored (ah, Photoshop). And, like I said, its subtle integration into the workplace side of the show set the pilot apart, so I’m not complaining in general. I just think that it was a bit on the nose, too much so for me personally, and is the kind of integration I had almost expected more from the pilot than from the second episode.
Otherwise, thought, the show remained as strong as it was before. I continue to enjoy the cast, and was especially glad to see a large dose of Josh Charles in this one. I was late getting to Sports Night, but he was really tremendous on that show, and he remains a fantastic actor especially for material like this. He’s able to handle the light-hearted side of being friends with Alicia and generally being quite charming, but when he gets frustrated in court you are able to see it on his face. It makes me really want to get around to watching the first season of In Treatment, but this is good for now. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski wasn’t given much to do, while Matt Czuchry got a few lines as he started to realize that he’s going to need to be slightly more competitive once he figures out that Alicia and Gardner have a previous relationship.
It really does operate like a second pilot, restating a lot of things we already knew and building a case around affirming those ideas. However, at the same time, there was some legitimate movement with Peter’s case, another emotional scene between Margulies and Noth, and some strong performances at the heart of a decent case. The connections were a bit more laboured, but overall it’s a sign the show will remain as it was in the pilot: a good one.
- The opening montage of Peter’s sexual relations with Amber seemed pretty cut and dry until we realized that it was actually Alicia’s dream. I’m fascinated that they’ve been so quick to offer the potential for him to actually be innocent and to actually be framed. It leaves the door open both for Chris Noth to join the show as a recurring or even regular cast member, as well as the ability for the show to give Alicia hope about his innocence only to rip him away and send him to prison for good. It was inevitable, but I didn’t think we’d see evidence of it so soon.
- Speaking of that opening montage, I was watching this episode at 8pm (it airs early in Atlantic Canada due to local news coverage) and it was quite racier than I expected. I’m not a prude, but it’s interesting to see a CBS show use the 10 O’Clock shot in that fashion.
- I quite enjoyed the scene with the hotel clerk – Charles and Margulies did a great job playing off of the clerk’s speed in offering them the paper, and then Alicia’s honesty actually winning the day (and Will’s bet about the subject) made for a nice lighter beat. At the same time, Margulies had to balance the humour in the scene with her concern over the women talking about he and Will getting a room, which could well get back to her husband in future episodes. It was a really complex scene, and one I enjoyed quite a bit.
- I was very happy both to see Alicia lose and Alicia making a mistake: she’s still a junior associate, so she wouldn’t do great every single time, and it was nice to see this kind of come to light.