TV: CBS’ Good Wife Beats Expectations

Thoughts and musings on television by our new Harlem-based writer @josephrileyland. FInd more of his writings at kitchensofa and @kitchensofa on Twitter.

Courtesy CBS

CBS… when you think of CBS, what immediately comes to mind? Bengay? Dentures? A plate of scrambled eggs and toast at the local diner? That’s what I think of. And it’s not just me; CBS has a reputation for skewing to an older demographic and producing a slate of shows that are the equivalent of comfort food. At the same time, these shows garner lots of viewers. Just last week, they aired 10 of the top 20 shows. But as far as buzz-worthiness goes, CBS is on life support. Outside of hate for Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Sheen and occasional Survivor talk, does anyone discuss shows on this network the next day?

With a schedule chockablock with procedurals – CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-O – CBS has clearly carved out its own niche of programming and viewers often watch all of their shows, as they generate a certain sense of familiarity. One exception to this rule, however, is The Good Wife. Part procedural, part soap opera, all brilliantly written and acted; Wife has far surpassed its pilot’s promise of a Hilary Clinton/Elizabeth Edwards-ish character who stands behind her cheating politician husband despite his infidelities. Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick is one of the most layered and multi-dimensional characters on TV.

Shown in 45 countries and nominated for more than 30 awards, including 4 wins for Margulies as Best Lead Actress, the 2-year-old drama is also one of those Top 20 shows I mentioned earlier. Far superseding the parameters of the show’s initial promise, the cast has come together quite nicely, fitting like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. With Emmy winner Archie Panjabi stealing scene after scene, the great Christine Baranski front and center, Josh Charles finally finding a role that fits him, Matt Czuchry playing good against evil and Alan Cumming hitting exactly the right notes in a heavily politicized role, the main cast is nothing short of spectacular. Considering that the recurring cast includes names such as Chris Noth, Michael Ealy, Anika Noni Rose, Mary Beth Peil and Michael J. Fox and you feel like you’re watching an all-star cable series instead of a full-fledged drama series on network television.

Speaking of cable series, rarely does a network show get the accolades Wife receives (with notable exceptions: NYPD Blue, The West Wing among them); typically that’s saved for the series out of Showtime and HBO. One reason is the intricate storytelling of creators/producers/writers Robert and Michelle King. The husband-wife team have a clear vision of what they’re doing and know how to lay it out in such a way that fans keep coming back for more. (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the past few episodes this season, skip to the next paragraph… NOW. Everyone else, continue on…) Take, for instance, the latest blow to the Florrick marriage, with Alicia discovering that her husband Peter (Noth) slept with Kalinda (Panjabi) when she was a member of his staff, before the two ladies met and became best friends. The Kings had that portion of the story in place when the show premiered, but chose to wait and allow the audience to see Alicia and Kalinda build their friendship, trust and all, over the course of the first year and a half of the series. Smartly played. We had a chance to become emotionally connected to the characters and their friendship, making the denouement all the more poignant.

(You can start reading again now!) As the second season comes to a close – only two more episodes left – The Good Wife has grown exponentially during Year Two. Becoming not only a solid performer, but also a worthwhile hour of television each Tuesday night, it has become – dare I type this? – a show that I must watch live. Few shows earn that designation from me, but I truly look forward to what will happen next each week. And not only watch it but discuss it the next day with my friends. The Tiffany Network should reach into their vault and send Margulies a nice check to show their appreciation. The show is a winner.

What do you think? Are you a fan of the show? Hate it? Share.