October 4, 2015

Summer TV Binge Part II: The Good Wife

Although the central conceit of this blog is and always has been broadcast (non-cable) network TV that I watch through my rabbit ear antenna, I could not be a bigger fan of streaming internet platforms. Not only because they let me binge on yes, even cable shows (I adore Mad Men), but also because they allow me to catch up on broadcast shows that are still airing in time for the new season's premiere. 

Such is the case with CBS's The Good WifeWhen I tell one of my friends (a young adult like myself) that I started binging on this show, I inevitably get the same response: a slight smirk and the statement, "My mom loves that show." It's uncanny. Happens every time. But just because I may not be the show's target demographic doesn't mean I don't find this show fantastic.

Here's why I love the show your mom loves: 

The Good Wife Universe

The show masterfully weaves character development and all kinds of conflict - interpersonal, intrapersonal, romantic, professional, political, familial - through its overarching storyline.

Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth on The Good Wife
Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth on The Good Wife
Source: cbs.com
The title of the show is transparently tongue in cheek. Alicia is no more a "good" wife than the cheating Peter is a "good" husband. Instead, what draws the audience in is the authenticity of her choices. Not in the sense that they are choices I - or most viewers - will ever have to make, but because they are the choices we might make were we in her position. There is a distinction between relatable and realistic. This show is not one where you see yourself in the characters, but it is nonetheless believable. This is due in large part to the political nature of the show and its setting in Chicago, a city with real-life political scandals that make the Florrick's problems seem tame. The corruption, the infidelity, and the lies are nothing new to any American viewer who even passively follows politics. More than that, the show is realistic because the heroes are flawed, and they don't always win. (And when they do win, there's a cost.)

The writers of this show understand that believability is in the details; the lawyers, judges, and politicians whom the viewers meet on the show return again and again, just as they would in reality. There is a limited supply of judges in Chicago, after all. And these recurrences allow the faithful (or binging) viewer to get a more complete picture of the universe in which Alicia Florrick lives and practices law.

The Overarching Plot and the Stand Alone Episodes 

My one (peer) friend who does watch this show doesn't watch it consistently, and yet still really loves it. She's a fan of the TGIT ABC dramas, so I'd guess that some of the soapier, relationship aspects of The Good Wife are what appeal to her. And yet The Good Wife is not overwhelmingly soapy. The characters' relationship arcs feel poignant and significant - not unnecessarily dramatic. They give us enough to go on that we can 'ship one couple and hate another, but those relationships don't overwhelm the episodes. And when a relationship is worn out, the writers know how to kill it. (Yes, sometimes by killing off a character.)

Matt Chzuchry plays Cary Agos on The Good Wife.
Matt Czuchry plays Cary Agos on The Good Wife.
Source: cbs.com
All this to say, you can watch a single episode of the show and still follow along. That's because, in the great tradition of American legal/crime dramas, the writers are not afraid to craft episodes "ripped from the headlines." The cases that the main cast of lawyers face and settle and try each episode are intriguing in and of themselves, independent of the larger story. And each case is new and different, with its own legal complexities. That keeps the show interesting.

It's that larger story, too, that kept me watching. (I binged on six seasons of the show in about three months...) That wouldn't have happened if this were a run-of-the-mill procedural. Each season had its own fascinating campaign, business deal, scandal, affair, or legal battle storyline running through it. The arrest and imprisonment of Cary Agos in Season 6 had me on the edge of my seat episode after episode. That plot line was inspired. So was the dramatic irony of the Season 5 NSA wiretap plot. The Good Wife does so many things well, one of which is giving the audience just enough information that we feel knowledgable, but utterly powerless. (Which, of course, we are - but that powerlessness means we feel like we're a part of the characters' universe. That is good storytelling.)

The Guest Stars 

A lot can be said about the cast of this show, who deserve the accolades they've received. Julianna Margulies, who plays the titular character, has two Emmy wins and another two nominations for the show. Archie Panjabi scored an Emmy and two additional nominations for her role as Kalinda. Alan Cumming has three nominations for his portrayal of Eli Gold. These three have stood out to me as the most impressive in a cast full of very impressive actors who bring the universe of The Good Wife to life.

Jeffrey Tambor guest stars on The Good Wife
Jeffrey Tambor guest stars on The Good Wife
Source: cbs.com
What's been more striking to me as a binge viewer though, is the seemingly impossibly long list of guest stars - huge names from the stage and screen who fit so seamlessly into the Chicago The Good Wife has designed. Names like Matthew Perry, Audra McDonald, America Ferrera, Martha Plimpton, Kristin Chenoweth, Wallace Shawn, Ana Gasteyer, Jeffrey Tambor, Anika Noni Rose, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, Nathan Lane, and Michael J. Fox. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head! The show is stacked with these stars - many of whom have had recurring roles. The best part is that these stars aren't being used as bait to draw in viewers. This show doesn't need bait. Rather they are being utilized to make a good show consistently great by surrounding a stellar main cast with equally stellar guest actors to work with.

The writing, the acting, the direction - The Good Wife is a triumph. It's original, captivating, quality television, airing in an era when it's easy for broadcast network TV to be anything but. It's been my favorite summer binge, and I can only hope it will be one of my favorite shows to watch this fall.

The Good Wife returns tonight at 9 PM on CBS.

No comments:

Post a Comment