Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

There is a great deal of buzz surrounding CBS’ The Good Wife this Emmy season, and what’s remarkable is that I’m willing to join the chorus. When the show picked up a surprised nomination in the “Ensemble Cast” category at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, I was sort of perplexed, believing that the series was more or less a star vehicle for Julianna Margulies and that it didn’t deserve taking the place of Lost, or Sons of Anarchy, or Breaking Bad. However, as The Good Wife’s first season progressed, I was able to see the show is more than Margulies’ triumphant return to television, and its blend of procedural and serialized elements have created a series that deserves to be part of this conversation.

The series benefits from being both familiar and unfamiliar to voters. On the one hand, the show has a comfortable legal procedural/workplace drama structure which hearkens back to Emmys past (when Law & Order was dominant, or when The Practice and Boston Legal each saw considerable success). However, on the other hand, the show very clearly expands beyond that structure with a complex serialized storyline surrounding Alicia’s relationship with her husband and the scandal which surrounds his life, which interrupts and complicates the ongoing procedural elements. The show has its cake and eats it too, which will allow voters to feel comfortable voting for the show either for its well-executed simplicity or for the risk in adding serialized elements to the series (while the show takes far fewer risks than Lost or Breaking Bad, they seem riskier considering The Good Wife is ostensibly a CBS procedural).

Margulies is unquestionably the frontrunner in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series race: her wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards were not flukes, and her Emmys pedigree is just as strong (and while she has a win for ER, it was in the Supporting category, so she’s searching for her first win in five nominations this year). It’s a deserved place for the actress, whose work on the show has been extremely strong and who truly does anchor the cast. The question, however, is how much the show (which I’d consider a strong contender for a nomination in the Drama field) expands into further caregories: while I’d say that the series’ pilot is a contender in both Direction and Writing (as most high-profile, successful drama pilots are), I’m more interested to see what happens to the rest of the SAG-nominated cast.

In Supporting Actor, Chris Noth has to be considered a threat – he’s part of the season’s prominent serialized arc (and makes a big impact in the pilot), has some notoriety from his time as Mr. Big, and is quite great on the show. However, Josh Charles (who is Emmy-nomination free despite the genius of Sports Night) is equally as good on the show, and has to merit some consideration as well. Similarly, Christine Baranski has a real chance in the Supporting Actress field (having won for Cybill in 1995 and having grabbed a guest actress in a comedy nomination just last year), but arguable Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda has been the breakout character from the series, and so she probably deserves greater consideration even if her lack of name recognition will keep her from breaking through (although, we said the same about Aaron Paul last year, and he made it into the field). Throw in some guest acting contenders (Alan Cumming for his extended guest arc, Mary Beth Peil recurring as Peter’s mother, Martha Plimpton as a rival attorney, Dylan Baker as a sadistic client), and the series could land in a big way.

The Drama field is pretty crowded this year, but The Good Wife is in a good position to take advantage of this as a freshman series: its newness will serve it well against some established, but less noteworthy contenders, and this is likely to grab it a number of key nominations that will provide some considerable momentum (which the show might need, as its ratings dropped quite a bit after its early renewal). A nomination for Outstanding Drama Series would be CBS’ first since CSI and Joan of Arcadia in 2004, and if it garners over 6 nominations it will be CBS’ most-nominated drama series since Chicago Hope’s years of dominance in the 1990s, and I think CBS will have a lot to be happy about on Thursday morning.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Julianna Margulies)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Chris Noth)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Christine Baranski)
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Alan Cumming)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Mary Beth Piel)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Josh Charles)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Archie Panjabi)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Martha Plimpton)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Dylan Baker)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Honestly, I think it’ll contend in some capacity in every place it really deserves to: Matt Czuchry did well with his part, but his character’s real potential will be next season (considering where the season left his character), and no one else really played a pivotal enough role to be considered. However, the one omission above is Titus Welliver, who I think could have contended in Guest Actor but who didn’t submit himself for consideration (for this or for Lost), which is a pity.
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