Why ‘The Good Wife’ is the best show on TV right now
After five series’ (and renewed for a sixth) this show is obviously a big hit in the ‘States, but The Good Wife (TGW) in an unsung hero of the UK TV schedules – big props to Channel 4 and More4 for giving it a punt, and sticking with it. As a late-20s guy that loves Action & B-movies, It’s not the type of show I thought I’d like, but here’s a bunch of reasons that will hopefully convince you to give this a spin!
The Women: unlike 99% of other TV shows the main character is a strong, powerful, hard-working mother (don’t run away!). She’s written well, brilliantly acted, fleshed out, and what’s more – she’s surrounded by other equally capable ladies – Diane, Kalinda, and dozens of other minor, characters. It’s a sad time when around 50% of all movies fail the ridiculously simple ‘Bechdel Test’ – and ½ that pass do so by the skin of their teeth – but TGW puts women front and centre, making it a refreshing change.
The Tech: I work in IT and the tech in TGW never fails to amuse and impress, not just the kind of gadgets they use day-to-day – but the way in which cutting edge technology is often the centerpiece of a story arc, or the focus of a case. There are entire episodes based on Bitcoin, search algorithms, NSA surveillance, Reddit (Scabbit), Silk Road, drone murders, leaked documents, Anonymous, ISPs turning over IP addresses, memes, video game murders, and a recurring Google-esque client – ChumHum. You watch it and think “WTF TGW, this exact case was in the news last week!?!?” It’s easily the most tech-savvy show on the planet.
Major characters: Although Alicia is the eponymous Good Wife, there are around ten recurring characters that come in and out of the spotlight throughout the seasons. Kalinda Sharma, Will Gardner, Peter Florirck, Eli Gold, Diane Lockhart, Cary Agos, and to a lesser extent, the kids and grandparents. All of these enjoy a good share of screentime, character-building and season-spanning story arcs, that bring some much-appreciated depth to the cast – making them way more than “The husband”, “The Boss”, “The Competition”.
Minor and recurring, characters: arguably the show’s best feature is the ability to craft great minor characters with very little time. David Lee (Family Law!!) is one of the best lawyers on TV; Colin Sweeney is deliciously creepy; quirky lawyer Elisabeth Tasioni, politically incorrect Senior Partner Howard Lyman, the ever-scheming Louis Canning (Michael J Fox), promiscuous brother Owen, morally sound Clark Hayden, those are just off the top of my head. These characters – and many more – are so good that you cross your fingers every episode, hoping they re-appear and you get enough time to have a proper catch up with them.
The Judges: interestingly, the show has a small roster of regular judges, each with their own personality, leniency threshold, quirks, and history with Lockhart/Gardner. You find yourself thinking “un-ohhh, this is the strict Judge” or “Yeeess, this one fancies Alicia”, or “Is that in your opinion?” Technically another bunch of minor recurring characters, but they’re definitely worthy of their own spot on the list.
The main reason that all of these characters are awesome is that the casting for the show is phenomenal. I can’t think of a single actor who you could say was totally mis-cast. Re-inventing actors so inseparable from their big roles – Chandler Bing, Ugly Betty, Marty McFly – making them work alongside relatively unknown / under-rated actors. Someone somewhere has outstanding vision – like a Tarantino of the TV Sphere – making something special out of people with fairly unremarkable careers. It’s a true anomaly of TV. The guest appearances are also often surprising: Eddie Izzard, Method Man, Anna Champ, Sarah Silverman… it feels like everyone is lining up to appear in the show.
The Law: probably the most important aspect of a legal program – and not that I’m a qualified lawyer or anything – but it’s one of the few shows when the law is complex, believable, but still completely accessible (usually through some ‘approach the bench’ exposition). The show’s also not obsessed with Lockhart Gardner winning every case, and you sometimes see the flipside when they have to knowingly defend a guilty party… There’s so much fiery courtroom drama that you’ll soon find yourself walking around shouting phrases like Objection! Sustained! Over-ruled! Leading the witness your honour!! STRIKE THAT!! RECUSE YOURSELF!!!
The dynamics: it’s baffling that a show with such a super-broad appeal, and so many angles, still works this well. Ultimately, it appears to have been pitched at more senior viewers (median viewer age is 61 years old, and rising), yet it’s very tech-savvy and has a lot of explicitly gay/bisexual characters. It’s supposed to be about a lawyer, but that’s not even ½ of the runtime as family and politics feature heavily. It flips between serious drama, social commentary, and contemporary comedy so easily that it must be enviable to other show writers. You can watch the show as booth case-of-the-week, or appreciate the larger stories that bridge episodes and seasons. On paper it would look committee’d to death – a show that really shouldn’t work – but it’s a true anomaly.
it’s just a shame that the title is so bad. “The Good Wife” – bleurgh! It instantly repels most male viewers (probably wimin’ too); it’s just so frustratingly vague that anyone flicking through the TV Schedules could be forgiven for not giving it a second look. It could be a show about housewifery, it could be a melodramatic soap opera, hell – it could even be a softcore Movies For Men / Cinemax / Bravo style show.
TL; DR? Short Version: this is a peach of a show, and you should be watching it.
My wife is bonkers for this show. And you are spot on about the title.
It’s worth joining the Mrs next time it’s on for sure. And yup – terrible title. Put me off for longer than it should have.
The fifth series was on a different level from the previous four. I’ve watched it since the beginning but always found Alicia hard to like or to empathise with. Something changed in this series – and it wasn’t just the untimely demise of a major character who I won’t name in case anyone is new to the show – there was more raw emotion and less pure intellect and steely self control in our heroine. The decision to reboot the series by splitting the firm was a stroke of genius and also created some great comedy moments. I’ve never been as convinced by the political strand of the drama, which is one reason why I didn’t warm to the earlier series. You’re right about the judges – a couple of ex-Sopranos actors (Vincent Curatola and Dominic Chianese) have been welcome additions to the roster.
Great post, Paul, and congratulations on your fifth ‘birthday’!
Interesting – I’m indifferent to Alicia (would rather spend time with Eli / Canning / David Lee) but understand why she’s the biggest focus. I think, if anything, she’s been too composed & uptight over the first few seasons.
Thanks for stopping by over the last few years!
I freaking love this show (this is not new information). I’m in the middle of season 4 and I’ve just seen that Stockard Channing is Alicia’s mom. A new minor character! This is like the best news ever.
Like a previous reviewer, I think you’re right about the title, I honestly think if it had been called something different and I hadn’t thought that it was mainly about a woman standing by her man, I would have watched it years ago. So thanks for hassling me to watch it.
Worst title ever. Instantly puts anyone you’re recommending it to on the back foot… My guess is that it was a working title that just stuck.
Yeah, this show is always worth of watching…
Yes! This entire thing was spot on! I’ll give on the title as I’ve never thought about it that much. It’s so good and the season that just wrapped was by far it’s best! So glad someone else likes it as much as I do, and believes more people should be watching.
Good stuff – in the UK it’s been on one of the higher up satellite channels for too long. This needs to be prime time over here!!
I haven’t watch this yet, even though it gets rave reviews. And even though I haven’t watched it, I’m skeptical that its the best show on TV. I mean, how can it be better than Justified? There’s no way. ;)
Ha ha ha – I’ll maybe give on Justified, but TGW is far more rewarding for the long game.