Show of the Day: The Good Wife

13 Aug

Opening Note:  Okay, this show is 23 fucking episodes a season; I’m not used to watching network dramas and I forget just how long they are, which is nice when you’re in the middle of watching live a show you love, but not so nice when you’re in the midst of catching up on a show you’re not sure if you care about yet.  So I’m going to comment after watching the first third or so of the first season, and then we’ll see again when I finish.

Procedurals are the rom coms of television; you know exactly what’s going to happen, but the joy is in seeing exactly how each episode hits each prong of the formula.  It’s kind of like a gymnastics or ice skating routine; you know what you’ll be grading them on, it’s how high they get the jump, how the form is on their spins (axels, whatever else they’re call), and how they stick the landings.

It’s both hard and easy to watch a procedural like The Good Wife after watching many other, more serial, more unorthodox shows.  On one hand, it’s harder because there’s just less to it, it’s less complicated, and there’s nothing that makes it really stand out.  On the second hand, it’s easy, well partly for the same reasons; it fits a model your brain recognizes and you can sort of kick back without thinking too hard; I don’t mean this as an insult; as much as I’d love to, even I couldn’t take hours and hours and hours in a row of Mad Men and Breaking Bad in any mood.  Good Wifes are easier to just pound back, and for that reason I understand why people like procedurals in general.

The titular Good Wife is Alicia Florrick, played by TV vet Julianna Margulies.  She was an ambitious law school grad who took a back seat as a housewife to her husband’s career in politics, which took him (Peter Florrick, played by Law & Order and Sex & the City star Chris Noth) all the way to state’s attorney of Cook County, home county for Chicago.  This empire came crashing down when he was found to have slept with escorts, and accused of using public funds to pay for them, landing him in jail, and his wife as torn apart and having to work.  She gets a job at a high-powered maybe midsize firm Stern, Lockhart, & Gardner, thanks to a friendship with senior partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles).  She’s in competition for a full-time position with fellow junior associate Cary, a fratty, younger, but not entirely unlikable lawyer. Each episode features a case for the gang to win, along with slow progress on the plot of Alicia’s husband, trying to appeal his sentence, and Alicia and her kids’ home life.

I’m honestly not quite sold yet.  It’s eminently watchable but it’s not challenging at all.  Challenging is maybe a bad word; but as far as procedurals go, I’ll take my Law & Order any day of the week, or a Psych, which is admittedly silly, but yes, admittedly silly.  And you know, what, challenging is a bad word, because it sounds pretentious, and I don’t really mean that.  Revenge is not challenging, but I enjoyed the first season of that show a bit more than the first season of The Good Wife.

Okay, you know what, here’s my real problem with the show when it comes down to it.  Florrick’s persona life and figuring out how to deal with the strange situation she’s been dealt by her husband is great, and interesting, and not something we’ve seen a million times before.  The legal procedural part just isn’t that interesting on the whole, though.  I don’t mean to week to week.  On a one-by-one basis most of the cases are fine, and yeah, by the time we reach the last ten minutes I want to know who did it, or have Alicia string them up in court, and yes, that’s all good.  But every week, week to week, the structure is so repetitive.  Even though she’s allegedly working for a kind of big law firm that does work for big shady or corporate clients, she’s always somehow working for the poor child or the innocent housemaid of a big client.  Her clients are always innocent, no matter how unlikely that is.  She’s always right.  Her investigators are always right.  Even when there’s a twist in what she believes, it’s a relatively underwhelming twist.  Most procedurals are like this, and with entertaining stories, they can still be worth watching (I excuse it even more for shows like Monk and Psych that are essentially comedies), but with the type of reviews and praise The Good Wife gets I expected more.

Now just a few stray notes:

The best part is the guest stars!  Combinations of that guys and people who later became regulars on other shows are everywhere.  Gillian Jacobs!  Titus Welliver!  Nestor Serrano!  David Paymer!  Peter Riegert!  Every episode is guaranteed at the least one or two random TV characters I recognize; it’s wonderful watching the credits and waiting for them to show up; even in incredibly minor roles.

There’s an episode about about conjugal visits; internet tells me those don’t exist in Illinois  I looked it up!  Now look, I know, you change up the rules for story sometimes, and unless you’re Matthew Weiner or David Simon, you don’t stay on track to all the actual truths and facts as close as you can.  Sometimes it just seems lazy though.  Like, sure, playing with some legal procedure is inevitable to make shows dramatic and watchable, but there’s absolutely no need to have a conjugal visit to make the story work.  I admit I’m probably being irrational here, but just putting that on the table.

One episode suggests that idea that a clip featuring an interview by the prostitute who slept with Peter Florrick on Chelsea Lately is seen by everyone in the show.  Sure, the family would find out because it’s relevant to them, but in what world is everybody watching Chelsea Lately?

Final word is basically that I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but as of yet I’m not seeing what makes this so good.

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