I don’t write very often about CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t watch every episode.
In fact, I often find that episodes of “The Good Wife” get watched and cleared off of my DVR far quicker than shows I feel more passionately about. I have to be in a mood to watch “Treme” or even “Justified,” but “The Good Wife” requires no specific temperament and no specific attention to detail or mythology. Its core is just procedural enough to keep me only liminally engaged, but just character-driven and serialized enough that I feel inclined to keep watching.
“The Good Wife” is *good*. “The Good Wife” is solid. “The Good Wife” is proficient. “The Good Wife” is CBS.
And there is absolutely nothing damning about that.
“The Good Wife” completed its good and solid and proficient first season on Tuesday (May 25) night with an episode that tied the 23 episodes together nicely. We began with a press conference and ended with a press conference, but that doesn’t mean that we’re right back where we started from.
[More thoughts on the “Good Wife” finale after the break…]
An episode about general trust and general ethics, the procedural plot of Tuesday’s “Good Wife” finale was basically a red herring. Our characters spent more time playing detectives than lawyers, as they delved into a case that seemed to involve corrupt cops, but maybe kinda didn’t. The A-plot was so unimportant that even though the case hinged on guest star Amy Acker, the Joss Whedon favorite, most recently seen treading water in “Happy Town” or providing backstory on the “Human Target” finale, major revelations about Acker’s character happened with the actress off-screen and delivered no pay-off.
But I only occasionally care much about whatever case Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) happens to be working on. “The Good Wife” nearly lost me six or seven episodes into its fall run when every single case seemed to rely on Alica following her female intuition, or her intuition born of her own spousal suffering, and being distrusted by colleagues only to be proven shockingly correct in the final 10 minutes. You’d have thought that eventually the other lawyers would realize that Alicia is almost never wrong in those instincts, but fortunately the writers found a different and better narrative flow for the series.
The show is now much more about the interesting character dynamics that don’t always have to be connected to the case-of-the-week. And there are so many rich veins of drama that you can be entirely agnostic on major relationships and still watch.
I, for example, don’t much care about the love triangle between Alicia, Will (Josh Charles) and Peter (Chris Noth). And most weeks, particularly in the second half of the season, that’s been the spine of the show.
The season’s big arc was Peter’s liberation from jail, his exoneration and, in the finale, his decision to run again for State’s Attorney. The producers realized almost immediately that the plan to have Chris Noth as only an occasional guest star would never work, so we’ve gotten more and more of Peter, including his religious conversion and his attempts to make things right with his family. However, it’s been well over a decade since I believed a word any Chris Noth character has said in any TV show or movie. To me, he’s unable to convey sincerity, so I can’t sense even ambiguity that the character has changed. Alicia is wary around Peter, but I’d respect her a lot more if she saw through him completely. That doesn’t mean I want her to be with Will either, since he’s much better suited to his assortment of possible 25-year-old girlfriends, especially the wealthy 3L hottie sending him $8,000 bottles of wine.
The finale ended with Will randomly deciding that he’d rather be a grown-up (and waste $8,000 bottles of wine) than dilly-dally, calling Alicia, right in the middle of Peter’s press conference, and starting to profess his love, only to have Alicia cut him off and say, “Will, show me the plan. I get the romance. I need a plan.” Will’s not really that grown-up yet.
Alicia needs to just choose herself and concentrate on investigating crime with the awesome Archie Panjabi, whose Kalinda becomes more and more enigmatic every time she does something which, for any another character, would be defining. Is she a lesbian? Is she into kinky S&M stuff? Is she vicious and unethical or is she the show’s moral compass? Panjabi is terrific and she works well with Margulies. [Yes. Magulies works well with almost everyone. Accepting that Katey Sagal isn’t going to get the Emmy nomination/win she deserves for “Sons of Anarchy,” I won’t protest when Margulies wins.]
I’m also interested in the potentially adversarial relationship with Matt Czuchry’s Cary, who lost the junior associate position to Alicia and jumped to a job with Peter’s replacement, the deservedly ubiquitous Man in Black himself, Titus Welliver. As a nemesis/foil, Cary could work next season.
The show has struggled to fully utilize Christine Baranski in the first season, but everything about her unlikely relationship with Sarah Palin-loving ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole) works. It’s some of the best, most understated work Cole has done in years, tempering the rarely understated Baranski.
I already discussed this with Twitter followers over the weekend, but I would watch a whole series focusing only on Alan Cumming’s Eli Gold. I’ve seen legal dramas aplenty, but a show focusing on a vicious operative working the Chicago political machine? Pair him with an initially idealistic young partner straight out of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, introduce a Barack Obama-style young candidate? And let Eli Gold go to town. Cumming is an actor capable of being either very excellent or very annoying, but his introduction into the “Good Wife” cast coincided with an escalation in my interest.
Me, I’d trade all of the domestic squabbling and nosy, tear-prone children for more time with the recurring guest judges played by the likes of David Paymer, Denis O’Hare and Peter Gerety. I’d beef up the parts for Zach Grenier’s slightly sleazy divorce attorney and for Michael Boatman, showing more dramatic chops than usual. If Martha Plimpton didn’t have a new FOX comedy this fall, she could come back whenever she wanted to. And any circumstances which will allow Dylan Baker’s Colin Sweeney to commit new horrifying crimes would also be appreciated.
Perhaps what impresses me most about “The Good Wife” is that even if the show that the writers prefer to think of as the core series — that love triangle stuff — isn’t the one I like, a universe of characters I *do* like has also been developed in no time.
“The Good Wife” ended with a cliffhanger, but I guess I don’t see much suspense to it. Peter is reaching out his hand to Alicia, but she’s also fielding a call from Will. She’s going to take Peter’s hand, because that’s what the character does. It’s not that she’s just a “good wife.” No, Alicia has spent a full season expanding her ethical limits, sometimes feeling guilty about it and mostly not. She’s learned the compromises she’s had to make to live the life she wants to live and keep the life she wants for her kids and taking Peter’s hand keeps that life intact.
She’ll just listen to Will’s plan a little bit later.
She already promised Eli Gold that she’s going to make his life hard and that’s conflict I want to see.
“The Good Wife” is a show that some folks think is great and although I’m not close to there yet, I see within the show several permutations that might reach that level for me. I’ll keep watching for those glimpses and that potential.
What’d you think of the “Good Wife” finale? And what’d you think of the show’s first season?