The Americans have mastered the art of making captivating television. While HBO has traditionally led the field with dramas like The Sopranos and of course, Sex And The City, other channels have stepped up increasingly with shows like The West Wing, and now The Good Wife – the former aired by NBC, the latter by CBS.
The Good Wife with its unfortunately banal name, is another superb show that has now been renewed for its fourth season. Though I hesitate to compare any show to the exceptional West Wing (Aaron Sorkin's inarguable masterpiece, a seven season series chronicling the tenure of President Bartlett, a fictitious democratic president, although one often wishes he were real), The Good Wife clearly pays homage to the former's precise, informative, yet emotionally uplifting writing style, scattered with jokes and littered with clever references.
The opposite of the domestic drama that the name might imply, The Good Wife refers to Alicia Florrick (played by the beautiful and talented Juliana Margulies), whose husband, Peter Florrick, Chicago's swanky Cook's County State's Attorney, in an uncanny resemblance to recent politics (John and the late Elizabeth Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, the Clintons) is found guilty of cavorting with a prostitute and other alleged corruptions. As he resigns from office, his wife, Alicia, stands quietly by him in seeming solidarity just as we have seen on television in the real world, countless times.
With Peter in jail, Alicia, a lawyer by training who graduated from Georgetown Law takes up work as a junior litigator at Stern, Lockhart & Gardner – helped into her position by Will Gardner, a partner in the prestigious Chicago law firm. Met with not just a little antagonism, Alicia slowly but surely wins her way into the firm, and the public's good graces with her obvious talent as a lawyer and her refusal to become a part of Peter Florrick's sordid legacy.
The show initially deals more with Alicia's life, her struggle with working and balancing her children, keeping her annoyingly interfering socialite mother-in-law Jackie (Mary Beth Peil) at bay, as well as her coming to terms with Peter's incarceration, her dilemma about leaving him, and the obvious flame that Will Gardner, her former classmate, still carries for her. While none of this is even remotely uninteresting, the show slowly evolves into something even more sophisticated. While Alicia remains the main character in many ways, each episode is written to deal with the very complex moral problems inherent in the law. As the cast of lawyers, all with different political inclinations, fight their battles for their clients, we are confronted with very complex legal theory, none of which is easy to sift through nor agree with, but is fascinating all the same.
It is this very treatment of the viewer as an intelligent being, one that might not appreciate being spoon-fed, that lays at the heart of The Good Wife's excellence.
While Juliana Margulies carries the show with heart and her grave beauty, there are a number of amazing characters, all of whom have equally intriguing stories: Will Gardner, the hyper-ambitious, not always strictly moral, basketball playing lawyer; Diane Lockhart, the only woman partner in the firm, an ardent, sharply witty feminist ideologue who falls in love with a Republican fire-arms analyst; Peter Florrick himself (Chris Noth also known as "Mr. Big" in Sex And The City) who slowly plots his return in prison, and wonders how to win back his wife; and last but perhaps most interestingly Kalinda Sharma, the enigmatic, gun toting, in-house investigator at Stern, Lockhart & Gardner, played by the fiercely talented Archie Panjabi – an actor whom I hope to see much much more.
For anyone who scorns TV, I will not argue, but pick up a copy of The Good Wife and you won't regret it. It is one of the shows, like The West Wing that you will find yourself watching over and over again, and each time, finding something new to delight in.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available at: Music and Expression, Thamel, Phone # 014700092