Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ATVC 2012: The Good Wife

Spoilers abound, so beware.

The Good Wife
22 episodes, CBS (September 2011 - April 2012)

During its first two seasons, The Good Wife really felt like a cable series that had hijacked Tuesday nights on CBS. It was dense and intricate and powered by an ensemble of ambiguous characters driven by potentially alienating desires. The way it folded serialized storytelling with absorbing standalone legal cases was unparalleled, while the insight into law as a product was consistently fascinating. Season three, while still able to surprise every once in a while, felt very much like a CBS drama. There was an odd stop-and-start feel to the year, in which stories came and went with little fanfare and every episode seemed to be building to something interesting, only for it all to come crashing down into nothingness. It was that sense of a show feigning excitement that ended up killing the year, as the longer arcs were never as absorbing as I'm sure the writers had anticipated.

Despite boasting one of the best casts on television, many of the characters were wasted this year. Diane had some interesting material once she discovered Alicia and Will's affair, but it never really went anywhere. A similar thing occurred with her dabble into mid-life promiscuity, a promising story that fell off almost as quickly as it was introduced. The show went to the expense of hiring Alan Cumming as a regular, but gave him little to do but act exasperated in the office, a subplot with Amy Sedaris and the divine Parker Posey winding up more than a little flat.

Kalinda is also a major problem right now. Wavering accent and all, Archie Panjabi is spectacularly imposing in the role, but the show has become so over-reliant on her ambiguous sexuality that many of her scenes greater resemble an SNL skit than serious drama. Her last arc, in which some bitter lesbian fed launched a mission to take her down, was insane in its ridiculousness. There's also something so disappointingly CBS-ish about the gay angle, in which her pan-sexuality is given far more attention than it actually warrants. Kalinda's sexuality isn't at all the most interesting thing about her character (her marital history, finally given dramatic weight in the finale, is far more absorbing), and yet it became the entire focus of her role this year, every woman she encountered seeming sexually aroused by her. Blah.

Over-reliance is actually the fundamental problem with The Good Wife of late. Presumably as they're run out of new ideas, the writers are too often relying on old tricks and old antagonists to create sparkage, only with that one-time excitement dimmed over time. Michael J. Fox was a spitfire of awesome at one point, but his character has appeared so often that any merit of having him around has been greatly diminished. Same with the various other cast members who were exhumed from history this season, from Lemond Bishop to the suddenly batshit Jackie. We've seen these people, we've seen their schtick, and we don't at all need to see them anymore.

I also had a real issue with the female characters this year, who all had that same sexually forceful, professionally-inappropriate personality. Whether it was Dana at the DA's office, or Lisa Edelstein's ball-busting lawyer, the aforementioned Amy Sedaris or ridiculous Agent Delaney, they were all that kind of half-baked, come-hither-look, sexually-ambiguous femme fatale that could have been fun at one point in time, but now make up the entire personality of practically every new female addition to the cast. It's a waste of talent and a major insult to the audience, especially in a series that prides itself on its strong female leads.

I know I sound like I'm shitting all over this season, but while I enjoyed certain stories and think the stylistic direction on any general episode is gorgeous and interesting for a network television show, the writers over-indulged on what I like to call "CSI: Miami stupidity" once too often (like the judge and his Facebook friend, or Grace's grotesque 'viral dancing' buddy). I still love most of the cast, but the characters themselves veered off-course, while there was a real lack of forward momentum through most of the major arcs. Things happened, most of it underwhelmed, and the fire the show once had in spades was replaced by a lack of subtlety and porny plot twists. Let's hope it was just a momentary blip. C-

Favorite Episode Matthew Perry's skeezy guest spot in Blue Ribbon Panel (3.19) was one of the highlights of the season, notably that great scene where he continually lied to Alicia's face while feigning complete innocence -- just a remarkable depiction of corruption and delusion in the elite.


  1. So true. You encapsulated my thoughts concerning this season to the tee. It was a really unfortunate season of The Good Wife and I pray they get back on track next year. This jewel of a show is just too wonderful to watch waste away after the first two glorious seasons.
    And your insight concerning the female characters was also spot on. It was just really bizarre and jarring. And finally Kalinda? An utter disaster this year.
    Loving this commentaries Max. It's so nice to read your thoughts on shows you don't review week in, week out. Too bad Ringer was wasting your valuable review efforts this year :P

  2. Thanks, Nad. And, yeah, Ringer totally distracted me this year. Heh.