The Good Wife

It begins and ends with a slap!

I remember seeing a trailer for the first season of ‘The Good Wife’ on Channel 4 in 2010. It looked like an interesting new show, a bit of a different take on the courtroom dramas like ‘LA Law’ that I grew up watching – also I was a big ‘Sex and the City fan’ so having Mr Big in it was a big draw. But for some reason, I didn’t give it a go and as the years rolled on, it kept going, and the episode count ratched up to a point where I didn’t feel inclined to invest that much time in it.

However, when I saw it appear on Amazon Prime and I had some time to spare on my daily commute, I thought I’d give it a go. And so with my physical journeys to and from work, came the metaphorical journey of Alicia Florrick from loyal, mousy wife to independent woman and legal powerhouse.

156 episodes (and 6 months) later (approx. 120 hours of television), I have to say that there is something very special about this show. As with other legal dramas, there’s often one case to focus on per episode with a some long and slow-burning storylines layered underneath. I enjoyed the variety and contemporary nature of the cases as well with a lot of them dealing with new technologies, social media, political/security issues and a big chunk of episodes later on focussed on state sanctioned snooping.

There’s also sense of humour here that I really loved. It’s not hugely different or massively originally but the writing and time taken to explore character is something I don’t feel is achieved as well very often. The strength of this show comes through its female characters:

At the very top of this show is Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart – I always feel like I’ve never seen enough of her, she’s in this a lot and I love every moment of her on screen but I could always see more. In the 90’s, I used to watch Christine playing Maryann in the Cybil Shephard vehicle ‘Cybil’ and back then she stole every scene.

Diane is one of the most liberal-minded people you’ll find but ruthless when backed into a corner. She never seems to be afraid of having her principles challenged but often finds those principles strengthened as a result. It was good to see such a formidable character also show such vulnerability at times, never seeming to be forced or intentional.

Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma – Our friends named their cat ‘Calinda’ after this character years before I’d seen the show so I thought it was just because it was a nice, unusual name. Kalinda though, is not what you’d call ‘nice’, she’s a law unto herself, take-no-prisoners kind of character and even when she lets someone in, she never really gives herself totally to them. Her friendship with Alicia is perhaps where we see her at her most vulnerable, especially when that relationship is put in jeopardy by something from her past that gets brought into the present. As with Christine, I loved watching every second of Archie on screen.

Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni – Only in 14 of the 156 episodes, this character is by far the best of the recurring supporting roles. She is totally on a another planet but she has a brilliant, legal mind that gets straight to the heart of every case way before anyone else. You can almost see the lightbulb ping on above her head while everyone else is still scratching theirs.

Lastly, there’s Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick. The evolution of this character arcs over the 156 episodes and there isn’t a point where she’s finished developing – as soon as you think she’s settled, something happens and she (and we) re-evaluate and adapt again. Fundamentally, her integrity never wavers, she makes a few suspect choices but her motivation is always to do the right thing, to be the good person yet being a good wife is a bit of a misnomer.

Alicia is really put through it and often she reacts by dusting herself off and getting on with life.  On a couple of occasions, it all builds up to be too much and on one occasion in Season 5 her reaction felt drawn out and self-indulgent.  However, there’s one scene halfway through the last season where Alicia completely breaks down in front of her friend with a monologue that is powerfully, brutally honest and heartbreaking.

And then there’s the guys…

Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos – I first saw Matt in ‘The Gilmore Girls’ (another binge-job) where he played the unlikeable, to me, Logan Huntzberger.  I’m not sure we were meant to like him, he was rich, arrogant, and fundamentally, he wasn’t Dean or Jess.  So when I saw him in ‘The Good Wife’, I was hoping he was just a passing character.  But nope, he’s in it right the way through, and I ended up being really glad he was.  Cary is a funny one to pin point, it’s like he’s Logan if he’d made better decisions.  He starts off as pretty unlikeable and unsympathetic but retrospectively, I think we can put that down to youth and ambition, but as he gains confidence and the respect of his peers, he develops into a really decent person.

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold – Alan is another eminently watchable actor, so I was really happy that he was in this from fairly early on right up to the very end. The character development is very subtle that it’s only when you finish the show and think back to the start do you realise how far he’s come, emotionally.

Josh Charles as Will Gardner – Definitely an Ally McBeal style storyline here (Ally & Billy) in broad strokes, from start to finish, except Will isn’t married to someone else. Will is an interesting character as some of his seedier choices get revealed later as the seasons progress. As with Diane, he’s a character wanting to be on the right side of a situation rather than always being able to do the right thing to get there.

Chris Noth as Mr Bi… sorry Peter Florrick – he is so burned into my memory as Mr Big that he does a sterling job in making me forget that most of the time.  Peter is Mr Big gone bad, mostly bad – he’s a good father and he wants to do the right thing, but he is totally, utterly unable to keep it in his pants.  And he seems to let those around him convince him into doing things professionally and politically that really aren’t going to pan out very well.

The number of guest actors is very impressive, and full of amazing character actors that you’ll have seen loads of times elsewhere:

F Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Morena Baccarin (Gotham), Jason Biggs (American Pie), Anna Camp, Stockard Channing (Grease), Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), Gary Cole, Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Brian Dennehy, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Michael J Fox (that’s only Marty McFly!), Kurt Fuller, Peter Gallagher, Melissa George (Home & Away), Joanna Gleeson, Tony Goldwyn (Ghost) Matthew Goode, Mamie Gummer (Meryl’s daughter), Edward Herrmann & Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls), John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C), Eddie Izzard, Nathan Lane, Matthew Lillard, Christopher McDonald (Thelma & Louise), Kyle MacLachlan (Sex and the City), Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Bebe Neuwirth (Frasier), Connie Nielson (Wonder Woman), Dennis O’Hare, David Paymer, Matthew Perry (Friends), Oliver Platt, Martha Plimpton, Parker Posey, Christina Ricci, Peter Riegert, Amy Sedaris, Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), Maura Tierney, Blair Underwood (LA Law), Titus Welliver, Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) & Rita Wilson (Mrs Hanks).

If I had another 120 hours to spare, I’d definitely watch this again. But for now, it’s on to ‘The Good Fight’…

NetworkCBS (watched on Amazon Prime Video)
CastJulianna Margulies, as Alicia Florrick
Matt Czuchry, as Cary Agos
Christine Baranski, as Diane Lockhart
Josh Charles, as Will Gardner
Archie Panjabi, as Kalinda Sharma
Alan Cumming, as Eli Gold
Chris Noth, as Peter Florrick
Season(s)S1 (2010): 23 episodes
S2 (2011): 23 episodes
S3 (2012): 22 episodes
S4 (2013): 22 episodes
S5 (2014): 22 episodes
S6 (2015): 22 episodes
S7 (2016): 22 episodes