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'The Good Wife' recap: So funny it hurts

April 6, 2011 |  9:17 am

100281_0118b.displayThis week, Michael J. Fox returned to "The Good Wife" in his recurring role as Louis Canning, but the real scene-stealer of the night was an animatronic lion.

Co-creator Robert King recently told me that "in many ways 'The Good Wife' is meant to be just funny as it is dramatic.... To us what's interesting is when it starts creeping into comedy." This quote kept coming back to me as I watched this episode, one that packed some dramatic punch but was more notable for its humorous moments.

Let's start with the lion. This week's big dramatic development is Cary's discovery of Peter and Kalinda's one-night-stand. First, he finds out that Glenn Childs has asked Andrew Wiley to look into Matan's handling of the Kalinda investigation -- in other words, he orders an investigation of the investigation. Quite rightly, Glenn suspects that Matan is "playing politics" in expectation of the new regime at the state's attorney's office.

With Glenn on speaker phone, Andrew's daughter's animatronic lion appears to deliver the news. It was, by far, the most inspired delivery of expository dialogue I've ever seen on network television. (My favorite part was the long pause before Childs concluded the phone call with an "OK?", during which time the lion appeared to be staring gravely at Cary and Andrew.)

There were other laughs to be had. At the courthouse, Louis runs up to Alicia with a request. "My driver went home sick and I wondered if I could trouble you -- " and before the words are out of his mouth, we cut to Alicia, driving at top speed, with Louis in the passenger seat. And let's not forget Diane, Alicia and Will showing up at Stern's shiva, armed with tubs of potato salad -- or was it egg? -- only to discover everyone else has already brought the same globby yellow side dish.

All these comedic beats added up to an unusually witty episode, though I'm not always sure what the goal of these funny asides is, aesthetically speaking. Occasionally, as with the talking lion, it seems like these digressions are just a way for the writers to have a little fun. But that's fine by me -- too many other legal dramas/crime procedurals get bogged down by noir pretensions. It's nice to see "The Good Wife" going for laughs instead.

Back to this week's big news. I expected the revelation of Peter and Kalinda's past to send Cary, given his massive crush, into an angry, self-pitying tailspin. Instead, he keeps his cool and confronts Kalinda with some astute questions. "Why didn't you just tell Alicia? If you just would have been upfront with her, none of this would have mattered," he says, then delivers the kicker. "Or is that why you became friends with her in the first place?" From the way Kalinda clams up, it seems pretty clear that Cary's right.

What will become of Alicia and Kalinda's friendship is anyone's guess, but I find myself increasingly interested in Cary, who has undergone a fascinating evolution this season. He used to be the office weasel; now he's the stoic sage. I'm hoping that a truce with Alicia is also in the works.

As the season winds down, you can practically feel the writers veering away from the Will-Alicia romance. In a nice moment, Alicia admits that Will dumped Tammy's sister for her, but assures Tammy that their "thing" is very much behind them. (Never mind that she's probably the one who needs the convincing, not Tammy.) It's refreshing to see two women acting like grown-ups rather than scratching each other's eyeballs out over a perceived romantic rivalry.

Will and Alicia appear to have reached a similar accord. In one of their first nonawkward exchanges since the disastrous voicemail confrontation, Alicia tells Will about her conversation with Tammy. "I told her there was nothing anymore, whatever was between us back then," she says, and seems to mean it. Will agrees. Shocked by Stern's death, he's also suddenly feeling broody, and tells Tammy he doesn't want her to go to Chicago. For those of us angling for a Will-Alicia romance, it was a serious cold shower.

This may be for the best. Alicia has enough to worry about without the distraction of an office romance. With just days to go before the long-awaited primary with Wendy Scott Carr, Peter is surging in the polls. The DCC files suit against Wendy, citing residency issues (another blatant Rahm Emanuel reference). Rather than drumming up opposition to Wendy, the lawsuit has the opposite effect, making Peter look like a pawn of the party machine.

Happily for us, at least, Eli is furious. "The one thing I hate is amatuers!" he screams, his coiffed hair flopping wildly. (Again, the effect of all of Cumming's scenery-chewing is comedy rather than drama.) Of course, Eli has even bigger fires to put out. Rumors are swirling about Peter's attempt to cover up an affair with a co-worker, and, at Eli's request, Alicia agrees to an interview with Petra. Though this didn't make a whole lot of sense: What good would an interview with Alicia be for Petra if she agrees not to write anything about it? Alicia maintains her cool -- even when Petra asks about an AIDS test -- but the same can't be said for Eli. It's quite the role reversal, but we'll see how Alicia stands up next week as the scrutiny intensifies.

This is another episode that rewarded studious "Good Wife" watchers, though it did make me wonder how anyone new to the show could possibly follow along. For instance, I had forgotten that Alicia worked as Stern's counsel last year, and that she was the only one who knew aout his dementia. Then there was that creepy rat video from Louis' first appearance this season. As in that episode, which I thought was one of the weakest of the season if not the series, this week's case felt a little over the top.

Frankly, my pea brain was taxed trying to tease out the details of the conspiracy, but here's what I pieced together: The truly evil executives of an enormous Internet company, having already looted the corporation's pension fund and needing to cover their tracks, intentionally created a hostile work environment so that their underlings would quit in droves, thereby freeing up the funds to replenish the pension, but in the process drive several employees to suicide. Whoa, OK, time to take a breath. In any case, now that Louis has bought Stern's firm, it appears he's here to stay as the thorn in Alicia's side.

That's wonderful. But, please, no more rats.

-- Meredith Blake


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Photo: Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick and Michael J. Fox as Louis Canning in "The Good Wife." Credit: Jeffrey Neira / CBS