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The Good — no — Great Wife (Premiere)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on September 22, 2009

“It’s the superficial things that matter most right now.” – Alicia Florrick
“Does it ever get easier?” – Defendant
“No. But you do get better at it.” – Alicia


That’s been Alicia Florrick’s life for the past 13 years. Finding little things to take comfort in as her husband pursued his career aspirations and she remained the public face of wives and mothers. It became second-nature to her to be secondary. But when he goes down, she can’t sink with him. She decides to set out on her own and live the life she’s wanted.

The Good Wife’s plot in a nutshell. And it all begins with a scene we’ve watched countless times over the past few years. A crooked politician addressing a room full of reporters with his loyal wife by his side. From Jim McGreevey to Eliott Spitzer, Mark Sanford to Rod Blagojevich. But what happens to those closest to them? (Ignore Patti Blagojevich, since she’s no saint herself).

The Blagojeviches are a natural connection to draw, though, since The Good Wife takes place in Chicago. Like ER, many parts of this episode were actually shot in the Windy City as well. Not cheesy photo ops near the Picasso or the river. Just normal street scenes that some viewing at home will appreciate. I certainly did (I haven’t yet seen The Forgotten, which also is set in Chicago, but goes against it at 9pm…I’ll see which employs my kind of town better. See CJ’s review of it here).

Before settling down, Alicia was a practicing lawyer. So she decides to return to that life, a difficult task for a middle-aged mother and wife of a county pariah. Her story is told weekly through the cases that cross her desk. In that way, it’s a CBS procedural. Every week, a different case, solved in 42 minutes. More realistic than Eli Stone and more humor than Law & Order. But otherwise the same.

At least, that’s what I somewhat expected. It might come off stale without any quirkiness. But I quickly realized this show is more similar to the dramas you see on cabium (cable and premium channels) than it is to those network law programs. Not in terms of intrigue, like Damages. But in terms of character development, like The Closer or Saving Grace.

I’m not a huge fan of those, actually. Both Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter annoy me. The Good Wife is better. Particularly the writing.

The dialogue is natural, not contrived. But the words often hold a deeper and significant meaning. For instance, while being visited in jail, Peter (Chris Noth guest starring) asks about Alicia’s case. He tells her “that judge hates me.” She responds sharply, “I know.” On its surface, meaningless. But Juliana Margulies’ delivery of the line, the emotion she puts into it, makes the viewer realize she’s actually saying “I hate you too.” Simple but profound.

The dialogue also doesn’t patronize. I hate when a show drops a cultural reference then explains excruciatingly what it is so that older viewers will understand. Brothers & Sisters does this often with political websites and pundits. But in this first episode, Alicia told Peter that their daughter’s class was watching a “Funny or Die” skit about him. No further explanation. It’s not needed. You either got it or forgot it. There’s also a subtle humor to the program. From simple reactions to a phone ringing as The Twilight Zone for Alicia’s mother-in-law, there was just enough to keep me smiling between the serious stuff.

One possible weakness is actually the lead actress. I’ve never actually been a big fan of Margulies. I always thought she was bland on ER and it hasn’t changed much. Right now, that works well as the scorned wife and resiliant mother. Hopefully, her personality evolves with the show. In this premiere, she does do a nice job showing Alicia’s insecurity and how much she’s hurt by her husband’s transgressions and her peers’ preconceptions. And occasionally she shows a tough and bitter side. I look forward to more of that. The writers have created a great balance between cases and personal life that should help her character grow.

Alicia’s rust is apparent, but it’s clear that she’s smart and more than competent.  And the dialogue complements it, playing perfectly against facial expressions. For instance, Peter, trying to reassure her that he’s innocent of the petty “abuse of office” charges, expecting her to be happy, never realizes that his priorities are different from hers. But she tells him clearly that she doesn’t care about “the fine print in his contract.” All she cares about is his cheating on her. That’s what makes the ending of this episode so perfect. She’s trying to move on with her life, and he informs her that his case is being appealed and he might get off. And you can see her dread.

The main thing I took from this pilot is that this might be as close as network TV gets to cabium. Not just in dialogue, but some filming. The opening sequence during Forrick’s resignation press conference was beautifully shot. Every thought and gesture was carefully shown, but in a fog, expressing the haze that consumed Alicia. Add in footage of his betrayal, juxtaposed with the flashing press bulbs, and her inability to leave him completely…it was one heck of a start to the episode. You instantly go the feeling that this was no procedural. This show was going to be deeper. A journey rather than a walk around the block. Already in this episode we saw Alicia struggle with gaining respect, managing office politics, balancing her personal life and relearning the law…all why trying to ignore the constant distraction of her husband. The cases might prove to be nothing more than complements, like the clients in Mad Men. This is the first new show I’m genuinely excited about watching next week…even more so than Glee.

Grade: A


2 Responses to “The Good — no — Great Wife (Premiere)”

  1. CJ Cregg said

    I really really liked this show. For starters, the cast. I like Chris Noth (of Sex and the City fame) as the scorned politician. It suits him well. I LOVE Josh Charles (of Sports Night and Sorkin-tastic fame) as Will, one of the partners at the law firm. And I have to disagree with Mr. Feeny, I think Julia Marguiles does a really fantastic job with a particularly deep character. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Cary (Matt Czuchry, or Logan from Gilmore Girls). He makes a good junior associate. Also, I LOVE Archie Panjabi (from Bend it Like Beckham) as lawyer Kalinda. And Christine Baranski, who has been in, like, everything.

    The opening scene rings so true for American politics. Mr. Feeny is exactly right. It could have been delivered by Blagojevich, Sanford, or any other sex-crazed politician. Also, who can argue with the use of the word “scurrilous” in the second sentence of the whole show?

    I think the writing is good and the acting is great. I like the characters. I legitimately like them. I think Will is so adorable and cute, and I really admire and feel for Alicia. I really enjoy the character of Kalinda. She’s funny and sweet.

    The show also (to be cliche, once again) tackles important issues of modern day feminism. What is Alicia’s role in her family supposed to be? How far does sisterhood extend in a competitive law firm? I can’t wait to see Alicia work through some of these issues.

    And does anyone else REALLY hope she ends up with Will and not her current politician husband?

    Grade: A

    I’m watching.

  2. […] had a huge hit last year with The Good Wife. It received critical acclaim (it was my favorite new show of the season), lots of viewers and tons of award nominations. That wasn’t because […]

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