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Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'The Good Wife': Who knew we needed another legal show?

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Good-Wife-Juliana-Noth_lNothing about The Good Wife should have appealed to me. I’ve never been a fan of legal shows; the only one I’ve watched with any regularity is Damages, and that show rarely enters a courtroom. (And the law aspect is the least intriguing thing about it to me; Damages appeals more to my love of complete plot insanity.) I was never a big ERwatcher, so I had no great allegiance to Julianna Marguiles, and Sex and the City drove me batty, so I certainly don’t get the warm fuzzies when Chris Noth shows up. And yet, The Good Wife won me over.

When the Fall 2009 lineups were announced, I groaned at how the struggling networks – who know damn well they’re endangered, so they better start making some changes – trotted out yet another wave of legal and medical dramas. I thought, haven’t we seen just about every permutation of “Objection overruled!” and “You’re not gonna die on my watch!”? But, unlike many of this year’s derivative medical shows (I could take up half the space on the internet complaining about Three Rivers), The Good Wife proves that you can spin entertainment out of the same old settings.

(All right, let me just say one thing about the inane Three Rivers, because I need to get it off my chest, yet there’s no way that I would subject the PCC to actually watching the show: It’s about transplant doctors, a specialty for which there are only so many dramatic variations. It’s basically just an entire hour hinged on someone running around with a cooler. That’s it. I like to turn down the volume and pretend it’s a show about a people who are constantly late for picnics.)

But back to The Good Wife. What elevates it beyond cliched tripe? We’ve certainly seen the story of a law-practice newbie taken under the wing of a seasoned courtroom veteran before. But the newbie is usually an idealistic recent law school grads who loosens his tie after a long day in court and goes out to a bar with fellow young grads who remind each other that while you win some — and get ready for the flipperoo — you lose some as well! But having Marguiles’ character Alicia be middle-aged instantly gives her a compelling new angle, and then there’s the really unique twist of her being a public figure who loathes the scandal that made her one. What could just be a lurid ripped-from-the-headlines gimmick (her disgraced-pol husband loves the whores!) is actually an intriguing twist. This week I was a little disappointed when they added the mystery subplot of, Who is faking photos to make her husband’s scandal seem worse? This show doesn’t need an ongoing conspiracy, the human drama is enough. Plus, we already know that Noth’s Peter has admitted to being a cheater — and a spendy cheater at that. So if someone is trying to make his actions seem worse, there’s only so much redemption that anyone can hope for: Oh, so you only spent $60,000 on prostitutes, not $80,000? I knew you weren’t all bad!And turning the son into a supercomputing detective is a little weird, all the more so for the fact that he’s tackling the diabolical Case of the Pictures of His Dad Boning.

I like the characters. Alicia’s hypercompetitive co-associate Cary is realistically passive-aggressive in a way you don’t often see on TV. Usually the office rival is a nose-snorting jerk prone to comments like “Just stay out of my way!”, a la Scott Caan in Entourage. The in-house detective, Kalinda, is a little stereotypical (isn’t it always the tough gal who comes down hard on the strippers?), but Josh Charles and Christine Baranski bring some nice crackle to the roles as top partners. I don’t think this show will be appointment viewing for me — though I was entertained, it never occurred to me to watch the “next week on…” ads, which is my brain warning me that I won’t be a regular viewer. But it was reassuring to know that even if there aren’t any new tricks on network television, there are people who are working hard to freshen up the old ones.

What did you think about The Good Wife? Are you happy to sign on for any number of legal or medical dramas, as long as they’re good? Or do you think TV needs to find some more settings? I’m torn: as much as I wish writers would branch out, whenever shows do try to plow new fields (a show set in a post office!), it rarely works out and leaves me sheepishly thinking, “Come to think of it, hospitals are interesting.”

Next week’s assignment? As you remember, last week when we discussed Bored to Death with Ted Danson, I waxed on (for probably the millionth time) about my love of Cheers. And what kind of Cheers fan would I be if I didn’t check out the latest Woody Harrelson project? So Zombieland it is. See you next week to discuss it, and try not to fill up on brains before you show up: you know how drowsy a big meal makes you. Okay, on to The Good Wife

Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

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