Television is awash in good shows, yet I must confess that I don’t watch all of them. Game of Thrones leaves me cold. I can’t connect with Girls. And until recently, I didn’t watch The Good Wife because I had never watched The Good Wife, despite its exalted reputation. The story of a woman (Julianna Margulies) rebuilding her identity and law career after her politico hubby (Chris Noth) screws himself and their family with a sex scandal? Not enough comic-book existentialism and zombie gore for my taste. Another factor: my good wife, Amy, who controls our remote. Her pithy dismissal? ”Why do I want to watch a show about adultery? I get enough of that on Mad Men!”
Everything changed recently when I made The Good Wife the subject of an experiment: Is it possible to jump aboard a long-running series about which you know little and enjoy it completely? I made two discoveries. First: The Good Wife‘s current season, its fifth, is quite accessible, thanks to a fresh-starty plot about Margulies’ Alicia and frenemy-colleague Cary (Matt Czuchry) splitting from Lockhart/Gardner to start their own firm. Second: If the show has always been this sensationally entertaining, then I’m an idiot who really needs to stop listening to his ”better half.” (I love you, honey.)
Beginning with a twisty premiere that mobilized a vast array of compelling characters in a story about saving a death-row client, the show grabbed me with its visceral, eager-to-please storytelling — sharp, witty writing, lively camera work, dialed-in actors. I’ve loved the elegant, unforced thematic parallels between different plots: Diane (Christine Baranski) betraying her long partnership with Will (Josh Charles) to advance her state-supreme-court candidacy; a provocative trial involving a surrogate pregnancy and abortion; a timely case about NSA surveillance; and intensifying paranoia within the firm. And the breakaway story line has been riveting. The standout Oct. 27 episode — in which Diane and Will smoked out the conspiracy, fired Alicia, Cary, and their treacherous collaborators, and warred with them over top client Chumhum — achieved the amazing feat of getting us to cheer for both sides.
The Good Wife is one of many shows on TV fixated on infidelity in various forms. See also: Homeland, Scandal, Hostages, etc. Welcome to Adultery Nation, where everyone has been ruinously betrayed yet can’t help but become cheaters themselves. (I guess we can’t have it all and be ethically perfect, too.) The Good Wife is sophisticated fun that lacks the ponderous pretentiousness that often makes other ”quality dramas” feel like a chore. From now on, I plan on spending every Sunday night in its company. Just don’t tell my wife. A