The Good Wife

This has gone on long enough, this business where I haven’t written an entire post about The Good Wife and how marvelous it is. Readers, I need a moment of your time. (Good Wife reference! Get it? Anyone? Get it? Legal Sister?) If you are like Past Jenny, you have heard of The Good Wife and its acclaimedness, but you haven’t watched it because you do not like Chris Noth and although you like Alan Cumming just fine and have nothing against Julianna Margulies, that is not enough to induce you to watch a show that looks like it will be predictable and dull.

You have not asked, but I will tell you, what thrills me about TV, which is that it does all the best stuff from all the other storytelling media. Like books, TV can do the kind of delicate, gradual character and plot work that I love. Like comics, it can use up an entire episode (issue in the case of comics) doing something completely different to what you are used to, and then go back to its regular thing, without disrupting the narrative flow. Like film the people move and breathe and speak volumes with brief instants of eye contact. It also has some of that quality of theater where you feel it’s possible the story will notice you are there, though of course this is less electrifying when it’s not live. But I adore the weird, dysfunctional relationship that exists nowadays between television and the Internet, where the internet spends all this time holding forth passionately about TV, and TV carries on unconcernedly with what it was planning to do all along; and then very occasionally (or relatively frequently in the case of Dan Harmon) TV turns its head and looks straight at the internet and says hello (and sometimes thank you).

(She, please reread that paragraph whenever you have any doubts about whether it’s worth spending your time watching all the shows I told you to watch. Yes. It very definitely is.)

I think it is rare for TV to live up to all the narrative possibilities inherent in the genre. There are an unbelievable number of pitfalls: a show can end up too episodic (like Castle) or too committed to the long-term stuff (like The Wire — terribly satisfying in the long run, but there are barriers to entry); too soapy (like One Tree Hill) or totally uninterested in the emotional lives of the characters (like 30 Rock); wildly inconsistent from week to week (like Glee) or impossible to watch without already knowing the whole entire story so far (like the fourth season of Angel). TV shows never know if they’re going to run for one more season or seven, so it’s hard to plan an endgame. The whole thing is fraught with peril.

But sometimes, sometimes a show will come along that gaily avoids all of these mistakes, a show that has the cast and cares about the characters, a show where every episode is satisfying in its own right, but is also handing you pieces of character or plot development that you will need later on. I would argue that Firefly is television done exactly right, in spite of its woefully short run, and I would say the same about the first season of Veronica Mars. And — twenty minutes later she finally arrives at the point — The Good Wife.

Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies; skip this paragraph if you know the basic premise of the show) is the mother of two and wife of state’s attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth, but he’s supposed to be a bit sleazy). When Peter is disgraced and jailed following a prostitution ‘n’ bribes scandal, Alicia has to go back to work as a lawyer at the firm of Stern, Lockhart & Gardner. She is in competition for a long-term position at the firm with another first-year associate, Cary Agos (Logan from Gilmore Girls, playing basically a more mature, lawyer version of Logan from Gilmore Girls — which is fun). There is some mentor-relationship development with senior partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski being unrelentingly delightful), and friend-relationship development with the enigmatic investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi being unrelentingly sexy), and old-love development with senior partner and Alicia’s former something Will Gardner (Josh Charles of Sports Night).

It’s just, wow, it is TV done absolutely exactly right. Each episode follows a legal case being handled at Alicia’s firm, and these tend to be interesting, and complicated, and thematically related to the show’s ongoing storylines. (And they do not drive Legal Sister batty, which is a coup, trust me, because watching legal shows with Legal Sister is like watching someone club baby seals to death.) Around the edges of this, or occasionally front and center, are the ongoing plotlines: Alicia and her kids (her kids are actual characters) dealing with the fallout from the scandal; Peter’s attempts to clear his name and get back into political life; Alicia and Kalinda’s Bechdel-rule following friendship; surprisingly fun office politics; and a bunch of other things I can’t talk about because they are too spoilery.

I am having the same problem right now that I always have with State of Play, which is that any description I attempt of it falls short of expressing what is so good about it. For one thing, the cast of The Good Wife is terrific: great chemistry, and everyone turns in a nuanced performance even when behaving semi-unsympathetically. The plot of the show reshuffles the characters regularly (but organically!), so you are always seeing new character combinations bringing out new sides in each other. The writing, too, is very very good. Tidy solutions and clean moral decisions are few and far between. There are moments of genuine weirdness, the sort that real life dishes out, and these actually feel like life, not TV trying to do life. When the writing asks for an emotional response, it does so subtly, and because the plot and characters have earned it.

(In a spoilery interview with showrunners Michelle and Robert King, they say that the point of a particular plot thread was that “the audience thought we were going to take things operatic, when in fact the eventual solution was very small and very human.” I love them so much for this. First because I totally thought that plot thread was going to go operatic and shark-jump-y, and I was all set to be dissatisfied with it; second because I love knowing that the writers have an endgame and are not just hurling plot points at the wall like spaghetti to see what sticks; and third because the small scope of the eventual solution, and the way it was completely in line with everything we knew about those characters, made it hurt so much more than something operatic would have.)

Speaking of cast, the guest stars are awesome sauce. Practically every actor from The Wire shows up at some point, including Chris Partlow as a preacher (I know, it’s really weird, I keep thinking he’s got Snoop and a nail gun hidden behind his back). Michael J. Fox and America Ferrara guest in a couple of episodes, and there have been strong implications that they will be back in season three. I only mention this because I know everyone loves Michael J. Fox and America Ferrara.

I have to give a particular shout-out to the second season finale. The finale of the first season had a traditional sort of cliffhanger, what will she choose at this crossroads moment, and that was fine. The finale of the second season does something different, and I would argue, more awesome? but your mileage may vary. The second season saw a tremendous amount of change for all of the characters, both personally and professionally; the finale reminds us of this, and then gives small, tantalizing peeks at the future ramifications of everything that has come before. The pieces are being set in place for season three, and although the people are the same as before, they’re not playing the same positions. They’re not necessarily even playing for the same team. It is the best possible way of saying, We love these characters too, and all the stuff we’ve set up for them, we will pay out in September.

Finally, a word about the women. I really like it that The Good Wife has plenty of interesting women, and I particularly like it that the relationship at the center of the show is the friendship between Alicia and Kalinda. Yay, show! Thanks, show! Television knows it can’t go wrong by putting sexual tension on a slow boil, but The Good Wife plays out all of its relationships that way. Friendship ones too! I cannot tell you how gratifying it is. Other television shows, take note! Put time into building your relationships! It will pay off in dividends of extreme awesomeness!

(HERE THERE BE SPOILERS SO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WANT THEM: I am so, so, so sad that Kalinda and Alicia broke up. I had a hard time watching the penultimate episode of this season because I infinity didn’t want them to be in a fight. I am assuming the third season will be about gradually reconvening their friendship? As I will otherwise be excessively sad?)

Just go watch The Good Wife. Go do it now. Now is the time. Summer is here but brings not that many summer shows, so take this opportunity to Netflix The Good Wife. Then when it returns on Sunday nights in September, you will be all set to welcome it back with as much love as me.

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34 thoughts on “The Good Wife

  1. Girl, I believe you! I already have MirrorMask and Before Sunrise (I see there is a sequel to this one) requested in DVD form. I am also planning on starting the Doctor Who journey. This is once I finish Battlestar Galactica, of course. ALSO, I am very much interested in State of Play because I LOVE James McAvoy. No jokes. Love.

    ALSO ALSO, Communtiy? Hecks yes! I love that show. I laugh out loudly probably every episode. It’s absolutely perfect. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it because the characters were too… unique, but then by episode two, I couldn’t resist. The Abed and Troy in the Morning shorts crack me up! Have you seen the zombie Halloween episode? Classic! So perfect.

    Also x 3, Firefly. One of the many shows that did not live long enough (add in Freaks and Geeks, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies). UGH. UGH. UGh.

    As for your show of choice, The Good Wife, I haven’t seen that many episodes, but I have seen a few in passing, and it seems pretty great and intelligent. All I know is that there’s the husband who is in prison (and also used to be Big), the boss who has had a lot of plastic surgery (if not I feel like a bad person), and the partner who has a nice nose and is her (maybe) love interest? I don’t know… I haven’t seen any of the recent episodes and skipped over your spoilers so I don’t get spoiled.

    Oh, TV.

    • Good! I hope you like all the things I said were awesome. Yes, Before Sunrise has a sequel, and when you watch Before Sunrise you’re going to think, This movie is the last movie in the world to ever need a sequel, but watch the sequel. It is a worthy successor.

      YES to James McAvoy. State of Play was well early in his career, I believe, but he sort of got his start with that writer, Paul Abbott. He was in several Paul Abbott shows at the time.

      The Good Wife is so great and so intelligent. The characters are all worth spending time with, and you never think, oh, it’s this character, can’t wait for this bit to be over so I can get back to the fun plot parts.

  2. Yay TV! I love your intro! You put it all so well.

    Like I said, I started out watching this, but then it fell by the wayside but I do want to pick it up again. You’ve made very many convincing arguments. But I didn’t like The Wire. I tried to watch it and gave it up. Now I wish I hadn’t but I already sold my box set when I needed some cash.

    • The Wire is a show you sort of have to be in the mood for, and able to commit to. It’s very verrry plot heavy, and it took me at least five episodes to get into it. But once you get into it, you cannot look away. Promise. :p

      I hope you love The Good Wife when you watch it! I feel like it’s impossible to dislike. It’s really good.

  3. I have never watched this show before, but I did think about it when it first came out. Sine your review was so glowing, I think I may have to hop on over to Netflix and see if I can grab the first season and give it a try. I have lately been bummed out because all the shows I have grown to love are due to be cancelled, and need something new to fill up my time. This sounds like it might just fit the bill perfectly. Thanks for the enticing review and the heads-up!

    • I feel like I totally missed it when it first came out! And thereafter I kept hearing about how it was a Julianna Margulies vehicle. But it’s good times a zillion and will happily fill up your time. 🙂

  4. Your post is one of the few persuasive arguments I’ve read for having a TV! Thanks, Jenny (I may try watching The Good Wife on DVD instead).

    • Oo, goody! I am pleased I was persuasive. I was afraid I was being too gushy and ridiculous. Watching it on DVD will be fine — it’s good enough that you can watch episode after episode without getting tired of it. 🙂

  5. All the TV I watch is on DVD because I never have seen the point of having to be sitting there, ready at whatever time a network decides to show something. Last night we finished the first season of Veronica Mars. And the kids and I have watched a few episodes of Wonderfalls, after your recommendation. I will have to check this one out.

    • I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve watched almost no shows on TV as they aired. The Good Wife is an exception — I wait for it avidly every week, and I sit and watch it at the appointed time EVEN THOUGH I have a DVR and could watch it any time I want. It is very, very good.

  6. That is just about the best paragraph describing why TV is awesome I have ever read — I totally agree! I looove television shows, especially when they come out on DVD so you can just watch through them when you feel like it. I rarely buy movies on DVD, but can’t resist entire television seasons.

    Agree with Firefly, and Veronica Mars — so good! I’ll add the first season of Damages and the first season of The West Wing. I thought both of those were almost perfect.

    I haven’t been keeping up with The Good Wife this season; I usually just catch it on DVR when I’m home visiting my parents. But I have liked the episodes I’ve seen so far — I’ll put it on my DVD queue.

    • Aw, yay! I have such a hard time explaining why I love television, because it has a bad reputation. Even the past version of me thought television was stupid, so I feel like I’m rebutting stupid past versions of myself. I am SO BAD about buying television seasons on DVD. At home I lived near an FYE, and they were always having sales and I would get masses of DVD box sets for $10 a pop. It was so bad for my budget.

      Damages! I have to watch Damages! That has to happen soon. I like Rose Byrne and Glenn Close.

      I hope you like The Good Wife — I’m watching it all over again to reevaluate the earlier episodes in light of the stuff that happened at the end of this season. Totally holds up.

  7. YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY! The only bit where I differ in my opinions comes here:

    ‘although you like Alan Cumming just fine and have nothing against Julianna Margulies, that is not enough to induce you to watch a show that looks like it will be predictable and dull.’

    because Carey from ER is totally the reason I started watching this show (I ignore American stars real names a lot of the time and also continue to think of Carey in The Good Wife as slightly more grown up Logan – also coincidence that he is called that, I think not). I was just like ‘Omfg when was the last time she was in anything? This is going to be great!’

    The prevalance of women working and being friends, as well as women in the legal storylines is awesome. For a while I was worried they’d go really stereotypical with Diane and make her the ball busting, woman hater of 80s business America, but they made her so much more without ever really denying that she still contains some of those elements in her character. She is so complex. And the storylines involving women going beyond the ‘was it rape if she was a bit drunk and dressed in a halter top’ standard ‘conundrum’ of other shows is so good. But my favourite legal case storyline has to be the ‘did he kill his wife and then kill his stalker’ two parter. I almost couldn’t sleep.

    I have to get to Season 2 as soon as I can!

    • Yeah, see, I missed ER. I am not a big fan of medical shows. But I’m sure Julianna Margulies was good in it. She’s so pretty in The Good Wife, she looks exactly like I always wanted to look. Plus she wears very pretty dresses, the sort of classic-line dresses I look excellent in my own self, so I am jealous of her dresses.

      Oh, wow, I didn’t even make the Cary/Carey connection. Funny!

      Get Season 2. Many things happen in it.

  8. I do not watch this show (and will have to come back and read your entire post later – gots to run to an appt) AND I would love this show entirely for Christine Baranski BUT I have skin-crawl aversion to Josh Charles. and I abhore the title.

  9. Alas, I’m guilty of thinking this show looked predictable and dull, but you’ve convinced me otherwise! It’s now on my great big list of Stuff I’ve Gotta Watch.

    (If only this list were a bit shorter. I need to finish watching Gilmore Girls, and rewatching Buffy and Angel, and start in on Veronica Mars [which I bought more than a year ago and still haven’t watched because of that time I moved to New Zealand and North American DVDs didn’t work], and catch up on Castle so I can see the season finale. And now I need to explore The Good Wife. I’ve stretched myself a bit thin on the TV front.)

    Also, I love everything you’ve said about TV. It’s so very, very true.

    • Gilmore Girls is fun but The Good Wife is more better. In fact it is better than any of the shows you mention, except for Buffy and Angel which you’ve already seen. #evangelist

  10. I have such a hard time sitting still for TV, and a harder time remembering that something I want to watch is ON TV, and it all adds up to me always having to say, “Oh, I don’t watch a lot of TV.” Which sounds SO pretentious, and is really misleading. I can only say, I would watch this if my entire character would alter enough to allow me to sit still and remember things.

  11. I got hooked on The Good Wife a couple of months ago — I got the entire first season on DVD from the library and watched the whole thing in less than a week, it was so addictive. I’ve watched most of season 2 but hopefully I’ll catch up with the beginning of it during reruns.

    I love Alan Cumming and I also love all the guest judges, especially the one played by Denis O’Hare who is so wonderful on True Blood.

    • Oh, I forgot about reruns. Reruns! Goody! And I like Denis O’Hare also, I think the show does a really good job with all of their judges.

  12. You are not the first person to tell me that I need to watch this show. I am a huge fan of TV too but I must admit to watching some shows that are not as “smart” as other shows… LOL. I think I will add this to my netflix queue and make myself get to it. 🙂

    • Hahaha, girl, you have no idea how stupid some of my shows are. I watch Gossip Girl all the time, and sometimes on Fridays if I’m not doing anything else I make cheese fries and watch episode after episode of Say Yes to the Dress. :p But I like smart TV too.

  13. With all of my favorite shows ending soon for the year I’ve been looking around for something new to watch. This show sounds different from my usual but seeing how much you love it I think I’ll give it a try. Especially if Gilmore Girl’s Logan is here. Man I miss that show!

    • I hope you like it! It’s different to the shows I normally watch too, I’m not a fan of legal dramas usually. But the writing and cast are all just so good.

  14. Thanks so much for stopping by our site. SO glad to have found yours. I’ve been meaning to get into this show for awhile now, and like Simcha before me.. I’ll watch anything with Gilmore Girls cast members, esp. Logan. Looking forward to reading more from you!

    • I’ll watch Gilmore Girls casts in anything too, apart from the mother. I can’t think of the actress’s name for some reason but yeah, she’s not my favorite. I don’t like her delivery. I find her maddening.

  15. You’ve convinced me; I’ll give it a try. Have I recommended Homicide: Life on the Street to you yet? It’s sort of like The Wire – in that they’re based on the same book so there’s some overlap – but it’s character-based rather than plot-based, so it’s much easier to watch the episodes individually. And there’s a very subtle ongoing plotline that kind of reminds me of The Invention of Love, but I will say no more. Anyway, I seriously recommend that you watch the first episode, because it does a great job of introducing the characters, and you’ll probably know right away whether you like them and want to spend more time with them.

  16. So we finished up Nurse Jackie and needed a new summer program. Got the first disc of Good Wife on Netflix last week and really enjoyed it! Even my husband got into it. Thanks for the recommendation. Disc 2 should be here Monday.

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