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.
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.
March 16th, 2010
Contrary to appearances, I don’t actually blog about every show I watch; yes, I blog a lot, but there are still shows that I’ll watch, and even enjoy a great deal, within a given week that just don’t make it into the rotation. Usually, there’s a draft or two about these shows kicking around, posts started but eventually abandoned either for a lack of time or a lack of content: I really enjoy Greek, for example, but rarely have anything substantial to say about it. But other times, I’m reminded that I never wrote an individual review of any episodes of a show like United States of Tara despite the fact that I really enjoyed the show’s first season and am excited about its second.
The Good Wife is a show that I haven’t blogged about since November because, well, no one else is blogging about it. It’s not that people have stopped watching it, per se, but rather that no one expected it to be the kind of show that you would write about on a weekly basis. I’m still not convinced that it’s the kind of show I could “review” in the way that I review something like Lost, but I feel it’s necessary to take a moment to reflect on just how far this show has come. I reviewed the show early on in its run, noting its growing confidence for a freshman series, but the new year has seen the show improve even further.
While Entertainment Weekly was a bit bullish in claiming it as the best show on television (RIGHT NOW), it continues to make a strong statement as its mix of workplace, family and courtroom drama seems both more complex and more comfortable with each passing episode, and “Heart” is another fine example of its continued success, and a great excuse to finally talk about it some more.
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.
October 20th, 2009
One of the things which makes any legal show somewhat interesting is when it largely evades the law. At the heart of The Good Wife is less a question of what is legal or moral, but rather what is just. The central premise is such that Alicia is forced to consider whether or not her husband committed a crime, and whether or not that even matters to a broader question of justice. It’s one thing to say whether Peter broke any rules, but it’s another to say whether he was unjust to his family.
And because “Crash” focuses on a story where the goal is to actually avoid the legal system, where the crime being committed is a moving target while the injustice is staring everyone right in the face, it really brings this type of story to the forefront. Mixing that case, which on its own was interesting, with a couple of interesting sidenotes, some more work on the ongoing storyline with Peter, and even some acknowledgement of the tension between Will and Alicia, and you have yet another solid hour for the series.
October 13th, 2009
The Good Wife is a solid show, and a lot of this has to do with a very solid premise. What works about the show is how versatile it can be, even within each of its various elements. As a legal workplace drama, the show covers an extensive range of potential cases, and because Alicia is a junior associate it means she could end up doing a variety of jobs (like digging through files, or second chairing a bigger case) whether they’re representing the plaintiff or the defendant.
The show is ultimately a procedural, but it’s managed to be quite the chameleon. This week’s episode follows the basic formula, presenting a legal case that dominates the episode while Alicia is similarly burdened by her husband’s indiscretions. However, they’ve done an impressive job of providing variety in both of these departments, to the point that the twists and turns in either storyline are still effective.
The show is never going to blow me away, per se, but it’s nonetheless impressed me so far.
September 22nd, 2009
Considering that I’m almost a day late, and so many other critics have weighed in on the show and had largely positive opinions, I hadn’t really intended on sitting down to talk about The Good Wife, which I’ve always considered to be the one CBS pilot from this year that sounded legitimately interesting. A new NCIS (the original doing nothing for me, if nothing against me) isn’t going to get me excited, Three Rivers’ premise has enormously limited potential, and Accidentally on Purpose was strained from the start. But there was something both topical and intriguing about a show which took an aspect of a shockingly prevalent political phenomenon (the disgraced politician resigning as a result of a sex scandal) and asked itself a question: what happens to the wife?
And while more recent events would answer with “Go on a ridiculous summer reality show on your husband’s behalf,” The Good Wife fast forwards six months into the future to a position where Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is re-entering the work force as an underddog whose fellow juniour associates at her law firm were pre-teens when she last practiced. What results is logically two separate shows, one where Alicia struggles to raise her kids and live her life in the wake of her husband’s betrayal, and the other as she has to overcome years of rust to regain her composure as a lawyer.
But why the show is so effective is that rather than attempting to demonstrate how challenging it is to balance these two parts of her life, turning her into a harried disappointment to her children or a fundamental less of an attorney, the pilot is more interested in demonstrating that in some ways she’s meant for this. In some ways, what she has gone through in her personal life has made her a far more effective litigator, and has given her a new perspective on her family which keeps her priorities firmly in check. Alicia is a woman who has taken control of her own life, and by marrying her two worlds as largely harmonious as opposed to a constant conflict, it allows us to relate to Alicia on multiple levels – combine with a pretty great cast and an intriguing opening case, and you’ve got yourself a legal procedural I’ll stick with for a while.