Many of you probably don’t watch The Good Wife. Heck, you probably don’t watch anything on CBS, right? Well, I’m here to plead with you to watch The Good Wife. I just finished season one and devoured it in a matter of days. I will be reviewing all four seasons before the fifth season premieres in two weeks.
In today’s age, we’re so used to seeing the man at the front of the scandal — Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Rob Blagojevich, etc., but what happens to the women by their side? This is the question The Good Wife finds itself asking: What happens after the scandal dies down and the world starts to forget? At front and center seemingly supporting her man is Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies in a role finally worthy of her talents), whose husband Peter (Chris Noth) has just been put in jail for corruption and bribery charges. Oh. And he also slept with prostitutes. He’s the State’s Attorney for Cook County, an elected position.
What now? Alicia’s been humiliated and embarrassed, but she’s got two kids to support so she uses her law degree and gets a job as a first year associate at Stern, Lockhart and Gardner. She’s trying to live a normal life as she moves her kids into an apartment and puts them in public school, but she still can’t escape her husband’s scandal.
The Good Wife is part serialized, part procedural, but mostly a very fine character study. The case of the week is thematically linked to a character’s personal life, so as a result we really get to know these truly wonderful characters. Diane Lockhart (the fantastic Christine Baranski) is partner and one of the few older female characters on TV who is not bitchy and judgmental. She mentors Alicia and celebrates her achievements with her, also commiserating with her when things go badly. It’s so refreshing to see these two powerful women work together without jealousy or taking advantage of their status. Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi who is magnificent) is the firm’s mysterious investigator. She used to work for Peter at the State’s Attorney’s office but he fired her after learning she was working two jobs. The show allows Kalinda and Alicia to become friends, in another refreshing female relationship. We don’t know much about Kalinda as she keeps things very close to her chest. Alicia and Kalinda both suffer from trust issues, so their easy friendship seems genuine and not one sided. Also joining Alicia in the firm is Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry), another first year associate. There’s only room for one of them, so most of the season is spent pitting the two together, even though they develop a mutual respect for one another. They are both very fine, very competent lawyers, which is why Cary’s dismissal at the end of season one hurt so much. Cary walks that ethically moral line a lot closer than Alicia, which gives him a ruthless, cutthroat edge over Alicia.
And then there’s Will Gardner (Josh Charles!!!) Alicia’s friend from Georgetown who was instrumental in hiring her. Also a partner at the firm, he works closely with Alicia. I enjoyed the way the writers set up Will and Alicia’s past friendship (relationship?) while remaining ambiguous. Will’s ego is the biggest on the show, and he often comes off as cold but caring.
All good law dramas have to be centered around defense attorneys, because if you’re only on the prosecution then you get into Law & Order-type territory. Alicia and company know they are defending wife killers and drug dealers but their job is to defend their client. They don’t care if they are guilty or not; they just care about defending their client against any reasonable doubt. It’s an interesting combination because even though Alicia is totally skeeved out by Colin Sweeney (a masterful guest star role by Dylan Baker) he’s her client and she has to defend him. When he gets a non-guilty verdict after being accused of killing his wife, Alicia is both horrified and relieved because she knows he did it.
The legal cases are very good, and my favorite one was episode 19 that centered around the jury deliberating a verdict. We see flashes of the case play out, but it mostly plays out in the jury room as they decide the fate of Alicia’s client. Thrilling, riveting stuff. The justice system isn’t always perfect and this show doesn’t shy away from admitting that.
The show isn’t just a legal drama, but a political one, too. After Peter gets his appeal approved, he immediately sets out to clear his name. Eventually, Peter makes it out of prison and hires a campaign fixer, Eli Gold (the brilliant Alan Cumming, who becomes a regular in season two) to help his image to run for public office again. Peter’s a changed man, but images of his past self creep out every once in a while. Peter’s charming and we understand what Alicia saw in him and why people voted for him.
More than anything Peter wants his wife to forgive him, but she can’t. She’s stood by him for six months and the prospect of Peter getting out of prison and running for state’s attorney again is too much for her to handle. As she grows even more distant to Peter, she grows closer to her boss, Will. She’s still married to Peter, but we aren’t sure if she loves him anymore. I enjoyed Alicia and Will being equals in the courtroom and working together, and when the two share a kiss in a later episode I found it a little rote. Sure, it was a long time coming and they both wanted it, but it seemed a little forced. The best part was when Alicia went home to her husband and slept with him because she couldn’t sleep with Will.
I like Alicia and Will making googly eyes at each other across the room or sitting next to each other and doing everything in their power not to touch each other. The tension between the two is palpable and what makes their relationship so great. She doesn’t want to be with Peter but she can’t be with Will. In the season finale, Will calls Alicia and pleads with her to be with him. He just has to tell her in that moment that he wants her. It’s a fantastic phone call, because while she’s talking to Will, her husband is in the background talking about his wife and her loyalty. The dichotomy is so gloriously addictive throughout the whole series. Alicia’s speech to Will where she tells him she needs a plan is so beautiful: “Show me the plan. I get the romance. I need a plan…I have two kids who mean the world to me…I have the press…and I have a husband…Show me a plan. Poetry is easy; it’s the parent teacher conferences that are hard. …I have to go now.” That speech is what makes the Good Wife just so good. As the final moments play out on the season, we are of course hit with a cliffhanger: As Will calls Alicia one more time, her husband offers his hand to join him on stage as he announces his candidacy for State’s Attorney. Does she choose Will or Peter? The season ends before Alicia can make up her mind. Stunning.
The title of the show is tongue in cheek as the good wife has been Alicia’s role throughout her entire marriage. It’s a role she doesn’t want anymore and doesn’t want to be defined by. Because of her children she feels some loyalty to stay with Peter, and the commitment the two made all those years ago. I don’t know why anyone would stay with a partner that continually cheats on them, and we see Alicia struggle with that. She wants to forgive Peter and have the life they used to have. By all accounts their marriage was a happy one, and Alicia desperately wants that back. She doesn’t want to go back to her old life but she also doesn’t want to leave it behind completely.
I’m amazed at how brilliant The Good Wife can be. It’s one of the best network dramas and you’re really missing out.
Images courtesy of CBS