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'The Good Wife': The politician's wife gets hers


Julianna Margulies -- and her impeccable eyebrows -- returned to network TV in last night’s premiere of the much-anticipated “The Good Wife.” If the legal drama begins to sounds familiar, it's because the plot of “The Good Wife” is ripped from the proverbial headlines. 

Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, a Silda Spitzer-esque wife to politician Peter (Chris Noth), who is in prison for misuse of public money: specifically, for spending it on trysts with toe-sucking prostitutes. Unfortunately for his family, these encounters were caught on tape, spreading like wildfire online and across the airwaves (though the decision to make Peter a lowly state’s attorney, rather than, say, a governor, struck me as odd). With legal bills mounting and two kids to take care of, Alicia decides to work, dusting off her career as an attorney after 15 years as a stay-at-home mom.

Now, before I continue, a confession: I am not exactly a connoisseur of legal shows. On occasion, I’ll dabble with a little “Law and Order,” but at this point, who hasn’t? So going in, I was a little wary about “The Good Wife,”  but color me converted. Here’s why:

Of course, there’s the irresistibly timely hook.  Watching a seemingly endless stream of politicians’ wives -- Elizabeth Edwards, Jenny Sanford, Silda Spitzer -- sticking it out with their sleazy spouses, I can’t help but wonder what really goes on behind the scenes in these scandal-plagued relationships. Are these women pathetic, loyal to a fault, opportunistic or something else altogether? And while we’re at it, what do Hillary and Bill talk about over dinner? Do they lapse into awkward silence anytime anyone mentions cigars or dresses from the Gap?  Inquiring minds want to know. 

The show tackles this subject head-on. At one point, Alicia’s new co-worker, Kalinda (Archie Punjabi), tells her, “You know what I don’t get?  Why you stuck by him.” She speaks for most of the women in America.  

Though its pace is brisk (Alicia’s already hard at work on her first trial by the time the opening credits have finished), “The Good Wife” occasionally slows down long enough for some emotional resonance. In the doozie of an opening scene, Peter announces his retirement in a televised press conference, Alicia at his side. As chaos swirls around her, Alicia homes in on a stray thread on her husband’s jacket and tunes out her husband’s statement. It’s a convincingly mundane way of coping with a kind of public humiliation most of us can’t imagine living through. Once in private, she slaps her philandering husband across the face, something most of us can imagine doing.


OK, enough about the infidelity. Lest we forget, most of the show, at least so far, is about Alicia’s work as a lawyer. Whether the creators intended it, this aspect of the show is also perfectly tuned to the current economic climate. At the big law firm where she’s a lowly junior associate, Alicia is quickly put on a pro bono case defending a woman accused of murdering her ex-husband (as you probably know by now, all television lawyers are litigators). The stakes in the case are high: She’s up against a smarmy junior associate for a permanent position, and this is her chance to prove herself. Her law school pal, Will (played by Josh Charles, who will always be “Knox Overstreet” to me), is a partner at the firm, and -- I am hoping -- a love interest.  Pretty please?

While the legal plot line dutifully progresses, the show manages to sneak in a number of gender issues in a smart, relatively subtle way. Reluctant to assert herself, Alicia is all too willing to pick up the slack left by her flaky, twentysomething female assistant. Meanwhile, her boss (played by the always-terrifying Christine Baranski) undermines her at every turn and seems all too ready to hold Alicia’s personal life against her. Finally, there’s Kalina, the tough in-house investigator who uses her cleavage to crack a case (metaphorically speaking, of course). Alicia, for her part, prefers subtler forms of manipulation: She ingratiates herself with one woman by asking her about her kids.

If there’s one shortcoming of the show so far, it’s that it’s strenuously tasteful. Throughout the first episode, even when she’s slapping her husband in the face, Alicia is freakishly poised. No need for a catfight, but it would be OK to see a little crack in her veneer.  

What did you think of the show?  Do you think it will survive?  Would you prefer to see more drama outside of the courtroom, rather than in it?  What’s in store for Alicia?

-- Meredith Blake

Photo credit: CBS

Comments () | Archives (18)

I think The Good Wife is destined to be a big hit because of the public’s insatiable appetite for all things infidelity -- especially when cheating politicians and other public figures are involved. The popularity of this show by all the TV critics confirms something I’ve been saying for the past few years – Infidelity has become the new spectator sport. As an infidelity expert who is frequently called on by the media to comment on high profile infidelity and infidelity issues in the news, I can attest to the public’s curiosity about cheating politicians, celebrity infidelity and other public figures who are having, or even rumored to be having extramarital affairs. For more info on this, check out the article entitled The Good Wife Confirms That Infidelity Has Become a Spectator Sport at http://bit.ly/4G5mHl or see my Infidelity News and Views blog.

Most shows on tv these days are so boringly formulaic and predictable. If they concentrate too much on the court/lawyer aspects, however, it will become just another lawyer show. And, a we've seen many times, they all have disfunctional personal lives, so there's nothing new there--or is there? They definitely need to mine the scandal aspects. ( she could carve out a niche representing wronged wives and we'll get their stories, start a Humiliated Wife Support Group, be visited by Mrs. Sanford, Spitzer and Clinton, or the prostitute who is pregnant and moving next door...) I, too, thought the "state's attorney" gig was really weak--nobody cares bout state's attorneys--but I guess they can't go back and re-do that.

THE GOOD WIFE is a highly entertaining, ripped from the headlines legal drama that thankfully respects its target market: for all its topicality, it comes off both realistic & ADULT. The crisp writing is never condescending & consistently credible. The entire cast is effective, with particularly strong performances from Ms. Margulies, powerful & vulnerable without coming off sanctimonious; the always capable Chris Noth, whose role will hopefully be expanded; the actress who portrays Margulies' private investigator as a delightfully feisty shrewd subordinate who mentors Margulies in the rougher aspects of investigation; & especially David Paymer -- superb as the acerbic court judge.

This is a thoughtful, high energy series with substance that will hopefully find a wide audience.

love, love, love it.

I was very intrigued by this show and feel that CBS made a smart move by adding it to its fall line-up. I just hope it can make it past one season.

I didn't think that I was going to like this show. But, I was surprised by it. It caught my interest right away and held it throughout the show.

I loved when J's character got to be snarky at the end of the episode to the State's Atty. :-)

I hope this show continues to keep my interest.

I agree with most of the above, but have one or two additional comments. Why, oh why, does so much obvious writing and acting talent have to be directed to dramatizing this sleazy story about well paid lawyers? Why can't we have a woman who actually DOES leave the philandering jerk? What about the woman who becomes a single mother in this awful economy? Why not deal with THAT reality? Surely it affects more people than the dilemma portrayed by these well dressed, botox'd lawyers. Why not dramas about professors or architects or, better yet, about writers and artists? Don't we have enough lawyers, doctors and detectives populating TV screens? The real world is far more diverse, interesting and complex than those professions We are especially bored by the propensity for sleaze and corruption within them. Who CARES about a woman who stays with such a sleaze? Where's the creativity, folks??? Why not a drama about filmmakers or about the entrepreneurs who are risking everything to create new, renewable energy industries? They're far more exciting than sleazy lawyers and narcissistic doctors! BORING.

I hope that the "Good Wife" will be a hit. It was smart and timely. Julianna M. is perfect as her eyebrows for this part. Chris Noth couldn't have been more sleezly perfect either. I really liked the assistant to Alicia role. And whoever thought of the "Twilight Zone" theme ringer for the m-i-l should get a bonus. The show was entertaining and believable.

I tuned in last night just to see JM. As Nurse Hathway in "ER," she was one of the deepest and most tragic characters on the show. She is just as good in "The Good Wife." Chris Noth is believable as the sleazy and self-deluded politician with a hint of vulnerability. Actually, the entire show is very well-cast; and the writing was really good and well-delivered for a pilot, when one considers that the actors have not had the chance to fully flesh out their characters. There are a lot of directions this show can take and I am eager to see where it goes. I will keep watching as long as the show manages to maintain this level of quality.

The writing was smart, the episode was extremely well-paced, and Julianna Margulies was really great. I expected good things from the show because of the reviews, but it certainly exceeded my expectations. I would rank The Good Wife as perhaps the best new show this year along with Flash Forward (I've watched the pilot). Full review of the episode on my blog.


I LOVE every part of the show!!!!!

Initially chose to watch because of Chris Noth. As one commented, he is sleazy and a bit vulnerable. But was very much taken with JM in her role as wife, mom, daughter-in-law, and lawyer. The writing was much better than many old and new series. Hope it does survive the season. It looks to be a great addition. She is marvelous (and not 22). Very much enjoyed it and look forward to the season.

This show is not what I hoped it would be. If its primarily going to be based on what happens at a law firm and court room drama then count me out. I'm a resident of Chicago, so I thought it was going to tell a tale of inside politics. Also, it is very obvious that this show is set in Chicago only in name. The modern courthouse is totally wrong.

I thought the show was real good, I can't wait to see more. I'm so glad it's not another reality show.

I loved the show. Unlike you, I was weaned on legal drama. That's not quite true, but I loved Perry Mason, L.A. Law and the early Law & Order. The Good Wife is very promising, with Julianna Margulies (who is a terrific actress), Chris Noth (Big!), and the great supporting cast. I think it has a shot at being a big hit. I hope so. It's just the kind of show I like, and as you said, it's very timely.

Looked like the Chris Noth Show from the previews - deceptive advertising! Although I was disappointed to find out Chris is only recurring and barely on the first episode, it was an enjoyable show. Altho awfully fast-paced for my taste, and I am sick to death of "law shows", I enjoyed the concept of her triumph over everything the script stuck in her way. I'll be back next week. But I am still missing "Big".

SO happy to find this show! WOW....now I remember what a good show is all about. It wasn't until about half-way through, when Alicia turns to her son and says "You're adorable!" that I knew for sure that this was wonderful TV! As a mother of boys, I can tell you that that little scene just rang so true! This show was practically flawless....the mood, the acting, the pace. Everything about it is spot on and wonderfully done! Nice supporting actors all around.

I had not gotten around to watching both episodes that I'd DVR'd until yesterday, and I'm totally hooked. This show joins "The Closer" as my favorite shows on television right now. The casting is wonderful -- especially Juliana Marguiles. I'm happy for her that she found such a great place to display her obvious talent. CBS has a winner with this one.


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