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Season Finale: The Good Wife – “Running”

“Running”

May 25th, 2010

A lot has been written about how The Good Wife is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, presenting itself as a combination of legal procedural and workplace drama on a weekly basis while at its heart remaining a serialized character study. The series’ pilot was one of those skillful bits of television where they presumably lay out all their cards and yet really tell you nothing at all. The clear “structures” of the season were put into place (the competition with Carey, the complications surrounding Peter’s trial, Alicia’s romantic tension with Will, etc.), but it couldn’t tell us that those structures would evolve, and that from their “resolutions” would emerge structures which offer greater complexity.

Ending where the series began, “Running” very purposefully asks us how much has changed since Alicia Florrick stood on stage with her husband one year ago, a cyclical conclusion which for some shows would seem a bit cute (and, admittedly, the ending eventually veers into that territory). However, when you actually consider that question beyond the rote cliffhanger that the episode provides, you realize how much more complex this environment seems, how much it feels like we’ve lived in Alicia Florrick’s shoes and understand the ways in which she’s trapped between different definitions of the series’ title.

And while its ending may be predictable when taken out of that context, I would very much argue that the series’ position heading into its second season is more impressive than even the strong pilot predicted.

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The Good Wife – “Boom”

“Boom”

April 28th, 2010

The Good Wife is a lot like Fringe.

This likely seems like an odd statement, but both are shows which despite fairly substantial serialized elements largely present themselves as procedurals. Both shows are also at their best, when telling procedural stories, when those stories feel in some way distinct: like Fringe, the characters are usually interesting enough that a more mundane trial can largely be carried by the show, but The Good Wife (and Fringe) are both capable of twisty, complex narratives that embody the shows’ particular universes as different as they might be.

“Boom” eventually succeeds due to some interesting serialized elements and some nice work around the edges, but the central case feels like something pulled out of an episode of Law & Order. This isn’t a slight on Law & Order so much as a sign of The Good Wife’s limitations: this show isn’t as capable of “solving” a case in the way that show is, and the case eventually becomes a burden which interrupts, rather than complicates, the show’s other drama.

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The Good Wife – “Doubt”

“Doubt”

April 6th, 2010

It is possible that I’m running out of ways to discuss the quiet confidence of The Good Wife, which has become one of network television’s most consistently entertaining drama series, but let me run this one by you.

“Doubt” is in many ways a concept episode: it takes us into the jury room to witness the post-trial deliberations of 12 men and women, then weaves its way back through the case in a vaguely chronological order that has us guessing at certain bits and pieces of information before they truly arrive.

However, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t feel like a concept episode. This is not a show defined by its bells and whistles, neither within its premise (which focuses solely on character) or in its general approach to legal proceedings (where each case is handled separately). The show doesn’t do anything to call attention to an “extra-special episode,” but rather drops us into the jury room just as they dropped us into the clerks creating an impromptu court room a few episodes ago.

By balancing the novelty of this shift in format with an episode that relies just as much on serialized character development as it does on the narrative structure, “Doubt” continues a fairly lengthy streak of episodes that demonstrate the sheer potential in this series and its cast.

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The Good Wife – “Unprepared”

“Unprepared”

November 17th, 2009

The Good Wife has earned the rather ominous title of being the most unexpected critical “success” of the new season, maintaining the positive response to its pilot and growing into a confident, sophisticated mix of procedural law constructs and some intriguing serialized character dynamics. The show isn’t extraordinary, but in a year where the biggest new drama series (like ABC’s FlashForward and V) are still searching for an identity the simple elegance of The Good Wife is legitimately refreshing.

However, the show’s consistency has been its undoing in one area, as the show’s persistence in crafting connections between Alicia and the cases she tries has begun to wear thin. Last week’s episode was actually really compelling, smartly introducing a new character for Alicia to interact with (the non-lawyer) and introducing a case that had both ramifications in the law firm (being the partner’s daughter) and that involved the unique questions of orthodoxy. However, the show used the marital strife which resulted from the case in order to make Alicia an ideal lawyer not because she is particularly skilled, but rather because she knows what her clients are going through.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and perhaps some could argue it actually helps solidify her character, but as long as she is defined by her past the show feels as if it has less forward momentum than it should. An episode like “Unprepared” works because of how legitimately central Peter Florrick’s trial is to the events in the episode, but in his absence the show relies heavily on those aspects of her life. At some point, Peter Florrick is going to come home, or be sent away for a long time: at that point, what does The Good Wife become?

It’s a question that’s been bugging me, even while I’ve found The Good Wife to be consistently enjoyable.

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