Thursday, June 23, 2016

"The Good Wife" is not just your parents' show

Yes, Gilmore Girls. That is "Logan" in the background there.

There once was a show that my parents and their friends loved, and I thought that because it was marketed towards the parental crowds, it couldn't possibly be of interest to me. Then, out of new shows to watch and skimming through the Amazon Prime offerings, I decided to give "The Good Wife" a try. My intention was for it to be a show I'd watch when Nathan was at work - but he happened to be around when I was watching the first episode and all it took was 45 minutes and we were both irretrievably hooked.

In fact, we were so hooked that we watched it to the exclusion of almost everything else, which lost us a few pivotal episodes of "Arrow" - one of our very favorite shows! Talk about addictive! But WHY? Why is this show so great? And why are none of my friends talking about it?

First, a synopsis.

Alicia Florrick is a stay-at-home mom of two - but her life is turned upside down when her politician husband is caught in a sex scandal and sent to prison. Now Alicia heads back to practice law at a prestigious law firm headed up by none other than her former college flame.

Now this might sound like the beginnings of a sleezy soap opera - but trust me folks, it's anything but. "The Good Wife" is one of the most intelligent, superbly executed shows I've ever seen. The writing, camera work, direction, acting and pacing is all top notch. I could seriously use this show as a 'textbook' for a film class, because it contains so many examples of quality filmmaking (even though it is 'just tv.')

"But politics and law - doesn't that make it divisive?" Sure. But it's a balanced divisive. Although the main characters are mostly liberal democrats, I swear there is someone high up on the production who knows and understands conservative values because both sides are always considered no matter what the case or issue. Indeed, the show contains some of the very best portrayals of Christian and conservative characters I've ever seen on television! One series long plotline is the (mild spoiler) the faith journey of Alicia's daughter Grace, who starts the show as a plucky eleven-year-old and grows into a graceful, intelligent young woman with a strong moral compass.

On the other side of the age spectrum is law partner Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski. Although I've never enjoyed Baranski previously, I absolutely adored the grace and conviction she brought to the character here. Although I personally would disagree with many of Diane's views, I admire the deep integrity she has. In a profession where everyone eventually compromises, Diane shows a moral compass that most of the other characters lack.*

Indeed, Alicia herself morphs as the show continues (more about that in the spoiler section), and that bothered many longtime watchers. She was never my favorite character, so I was content to wax philosophical as she changed. People don't stay the same through life, particularly not when going through everything Alicia endures, so I was fascinated just to watch. No idols were destroyed for me.

In addition to the wonderful women on the show,  there are strong male characters as well (so rarely do you get BOTH in a production). Perhaps my favorite is the conniving Eli Gold, a publicity strategist played by the delightful Alan Cumming. He's great fun to watch, especially when his own young daughter matures into her role and plays a quirky foil to his character.

I also greatly enjoyed the reoccurring role of a sneaky, underhand lawyer as played by Michael J. Fox. Fox, of course, is himself disabled, and he plays a disabled character here. I LOVED that his character uses his disability to manipulate others! As a disabled person myself, I so appreciated that he was given a part to play that utilized his disability within the story in a negative way! He wasn't thrown in as a 'token disabled character' but rather given a complicated part that (usually) casts him as a villain!

(Indeed, I have never seen a show that so completely diversifies itself in all ways - religion, race, abilities, etc. It's brilliant.)

Then there is Peter Florrick, Alicia's wayward and repentant husband. Dynamic, powerful, and deeply flawed, he is fascinating to watch. Truly, I believe, the right partner for Alicia, but...

,,, but, well, spoilers. Because nothing is simple in this show. And while good characters are enough to keep many a show going (I only scratched the surface of the amazing cast), this production also carries a strong plot. Each episode contains both a stand-alone story (although with many wonderful repeating characters) and ties into the greater ongoing plot. Never repetitive, they manage to bring a new twist to each new court case, exploring the world of politics and law from angles I never previously considered. I found myself leaving the show with a much greater appreciation for and understanding of our court system.

(Side note - my husband grew up in Chicago where the show takes place - and his best friend's father is a Chicago area judge! Gave a fun personal note to watching it).

Now I have a few spoilers, BUT first let's talk content. It is a CBS network show, but aired late at night. So yes, there is sex. And yes, there is lesbian sex which I know will be uncomfortable for some of my readers so I'm laying it out there. I personally considered the show worth watching despite these elements, but that won't be everyone's cup of tea. Just an FYI.

Now. SPOILER talk. SKIP this section until you finish all 7 seasons!!! Then come back and discuss!

The show is called "The Good Wife" and it's a good name. Alicia struggles throughout the show with remaining in her marriage to Peter. She took a vow and she takes it seriously... but then she doesn't. She stays nominally in the marriage, but seeks love elsewhere. As a viewer, we understand why she does, but as the show progresses we lose more and more sympathy for her. At first we, like the public, laud her decision of faithfulness. "St. Alicia" the newspapers call her, and she is her husband's biggest asset as he runs for various political offices. But behind the scenes, her halo tarnishes. Eventually there is no reason not to divorce Peter - indeed, Alicia becomes more and more a hypocrite as the show progresses. "The Good Wife" is, by grammatical policy, included in quotes because it is the title. But it should also be in quotes because it is an ideal that fades and twists as Alicia wrestles with it, the truth and the questions growing ever darker. Is she a good wife? Should she continue to be one? Should she continue to appear the good wife?

In the end, she finally accepts that to reclaim her integrity, she must finally relinquish that title and proceed with the long postponed divorce. But not before she makes one last 'good wife' gesture, and in doing so possibly destroys the marriage of the show's true character of integrity, Diane Lockhart. Remember that * I put after my Lockhart paragraph? That's because I believe, at the end of the show, the true "Good Wife" has become not Alicia, but Diane. 

I loved this show. I doubt it would have appealed to me in the same way when I was in my early 20's, but certainly as I approach the later end of that decade, there was a lot to relate to. If you love good storytelling with complex characters and a lot of deep issues to contemplate while the suspense always keeps you on the edge of your seat... than this is a drama for you to try. I'll warn you that seasons 3 and 4 bog down a little, but after that it picks back up again, so stick with it!

Seasons 1-6 are currently on Amazon Prime (with 7, I'm sure, soon to follow) and all 7 seasons are on CBS's monthly paid streaming service.

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