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As one of the smartest and most complex drama series on TV, “The Good Wife” has plenty to recommend it. Traditional court room theatrics are melded intriguingly with title character Alicia Florrick’s complicated personal life. Viewers are treated to smart stories, witty dialogue, and impeccable acting. While change can be good to keep a show fresh, there are three main aspects of “The Good Wife” that the writers should never, ever change.
From the very start of the series, we haven’t always been sure of Alicia Florrick’s motives, and that’s one of the best parts of “The Good Wife.” Julianna Margulies is stunning in the role; I wrote an entire article about her skill at playing the role with such subtlety. It’s season 2 and we still don’t know if Alicia plans to stay with her husband Peter (Chris Noth), hook up with old school friend and current boss Will (Josh Charles), or ditch the both of them and strike out on her own. Every time we think we know which way she’s going to turn, she makes an unexpected decision.
We were set up at the beginning of “The Good Wife” to feel for Alicia and her dilemma, but many in the audience may have been surprised at some of her subsequent choices. As Peter has worked on his post-prison campaign and begun to gain favor, we see little hints of how Alicia enjoys the power and prestige of being a prominent politician’s wife. She also knows how to step into gray areas, as when she brought Eli Gold to her law firm to help her land the last associate spot over competitor Cary (Matt Czuchry).
Alicia is quiet and conscientious, and does a lot of good for her clients. She’s not afraid of going for the jugular on a win, however, and she still gets a little thrill out of beating Cary and any other obnoxious attorney. What all of this does is give us an Alicia who is not a perfect, squeaky clean superheroine, but an admirable yet flawed, interesting and strong human woman.
Shows like “The Closer” give us a strong female lead, but back her up with a crowd of men. “The Good Wife” is far more balanced, surrounding Alicia with complicated characters of both sexes. Alicia isn’t the only fascinating, powerful woman on the series. There’s the incomparable Christine Baranski as Diane, partner of the firm, who gives us a delightfully sharp and wry woman who has achieved success by being only as ruthless as necessary. We’ve seen her have a few crises of conscience, when considerations about clients or the livelihood of the firm render her unable to be noble as she wants to be. In a way, she could be a glimpse of Alicia’s future.
“The Good Wife” also highlights Alicia’s mother-in-law, Jackie (Mary Beth Peil). A true political woman, Jackie is all about standing by your man. She is critical of Alicia and her signs of reluctance to forgive her husband, and frequently intervenes (or interferes, depending on your point of view) with the family business. She knows how to work ladies’ luncheons and even conspire with Peter’s slimy advisor Eli (Alan Cumming). Being on Alicia’s side, viewers may sometimes consider her evil, but as with most “bad” characters on “The Good Wife,” Jackie is not always wrong.
We also get the perspective of Alicia’s daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega), a teenager struggling to figure out how she’s supposed to feel about her father’s scandal and her mother’s simmering anger. This season we also have squeaky clean political candidate Wendy Scott-Carr (Anika Noni Rose), making things difficult for Eli, who try as he might, can’t seem to dig up any dirt on her. There are also plenty of interesting female judges, staff, and lawyers on “The Good Wife.” One of the standouts has been guest star Mamie Gummer (“Taking Woodstock,” “Stop-Loss”) as Nancy Crozier, a pretty blond lawyer who uses a wide-eyed, airy persona to blind lawyers, judges and juries to the cunning shark underneath.
Then there’s Kalinda, who deserves a section all her own. As the enigmatic investigator, Archie Panjabi brings “The Good Wife” viewers an intriguing mix of sensuality, boldness, and sharp intelligence. There’s no hidden truth Kalinda can’t uncover, no building she can’t find her way into, no crime scene she can’t lift evidence from. Kalinda operates in the shady corners, so the lawyers don’t have to.
Like Alicia, Kalinda’s mystery is her power. With “The Good Wife” episode “Poisoned Pill,” the writers skated close to revealing too much about her personal life. Many may consider the revelation of Kalinda’s past affair with Donna (Lili Taylor) her “coming out” episode, but it looks like Kalinda is still playing her cards close to her vest. I think it’s more likely Kalinda is interested in whomever will get her what she wants or needs at that moment, and doesn’t care if it’s a man or a woman. Meredith Blake of The LA Times blog thinks it’s definitely possible that Kalinda had more “professional ambition” in mind than romance when she wooed Donna.
While Kalinda definitely has her dangerous side, including the baseball bat-to-car episode with rival investigator Blake (Scott Porter) that Entertainment Weekly’s Dalton Ross considers the “highlight” of the season. What’s interesting is that Kalinda might not be as dangerous as Blake, because we’ve seen just the slightest hints of fear each time she learns a little bit more about him. So “The Good Wife” is keeping us on our toes. Each time we learn a little more about Kalinda, we’re unsure of even less–and we love it.
Watch “The Good Wife” on CBS, Tuesdays at 10 pm ET.
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