Judge Clark Douglas tries to be a good wife
Our reviews of The Good Wife: The Fifth Season (published November 1st, 2014), The Good Wife: The Fourth Season (published September 2nd, 2013), The Good Wife: The Second Season (published September 7th, 2011), and The Good Wife: The Third Season (published September 11th, 2012) are also available.
His scandal. Her story.
"It's never going back to normal."
Facts of the Case
Six months ago, Alicia Florick (Julianna Margulies, E.R.) stood beside her husband Peter (Chris Noth, Sex and the City) as he admitted to being involved in a rather nasty sex scandal while holding political office. Now Peter is serving prison time after being accused of further political corruption, though he insists those particular charges are untrue. In the meantime, Alicia must find work to support her family. She returns to the world of law, joining a law firm as a junior associate. Tackling courtroom cases after all these years is tough enough, but the additional challenges of raising two kids and attempting to repair a broken marriage makes it all the more difficult.
All 23 first-season episodes are spread across six discs:
The Good Wife opens with an image that we've all seen on too many occasions: the disgraced politician groveling before the public in the hopes of saving his career, as his quietly broken-hearted wife stands by his side as if to say, "No, really, it's okay, I can forgive him and so can you." Elliot Spitzer. Mark Sanford. John Edwards. Bill Clinton. The list goes on. When these situations happen, we can't help but wonder what the faithful wife is really thinking on the inside. Is she really forgiving him? Is she really supportive? Does she do as Alicia does and slap her spouse as soon as the cameras disappear? The Good Wife spends a good deal of time pondering what happens to a marriage in the long aftermath of a political scandal, and does so in a thoughtful and intelligent manner.
I didn't watch The Good Wife as it was airing during its first season, but became intrigued after hearing plenty of critical raves and seeing the show earn some Emmy nominations and wins. Upon diving in, I was initially surprised to discover that the marriage subplot played a relatively small role in what largely seemed to be an otherwise ordinary legal procedural. Sure, the cast was pretty solid and the writing was decent, but I didn't see anything to significantly distinguish The Good Wife from a half-dozen other shows on television at the moment.
Thankfully, as the season progresses, the show starts to shed its formulaic skin and enter considerably more intriguing areas. The marriage subplot shifts from a small aside to a central theme of the program, and the complications that ensue as Peter attempts to earn his freedom and Alicia attempts to determine whether she can ever really forgive him provide some excellent drama. However, I couldn't help but notice that the actual courtroom stories become more compelling as the season continues. It may look like a standard-issue legal show for a while, but after a certain point one begins to notice distinct themes working their way through the series that tie the whole thing together in a surprisingly elegant way.
While a wide variety of subjects are approached over the course of The Good Wife: The First Season, the program is largely a quiet commentary on the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of liberalism. Do not take that to mean that this is a right-wing program; it's certainly not going to win the Glenn Beck Seal of Approval (in fact, a blatantly Beck-like figure is savagely critiqued in one episode). The show's politics are generally left-leaning, but it's wary of turning a blind eye towards people with supposedly like-minded viewpoints.
Consider the episode "Lifeguard," in which Alicia suspects a judge of racial bias in his rulings. "C'mon, he's a lifelong liberal," someone says. "So just because he's a liberal, he can't be racist?" she replies. In "Bad," the liberal Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski, Bonneville) seriously contemplates purchasing a handgun when she believes that her life may be in danger, despite the fact that she's spent a good deal of time fighting to outlaw handguns in court. Denis O'Hare (True Blood) plays an extremely liberal judge who takes such pride in overcoming his natural political inclinations that he will sometimes go to unfair extremes in order to rule in favor of conservatives. On the flip side of the coin, Gary Cole (Pineapple Express) plays a Sarah Palin-loving, ultra-conservative gun nut who proves to be one of the most genuinely ethical and fundamentally good-hearted characters to appear on the show.
Again, the theme is not that liberals are bad and conservatives are good, but that people should not be judged by their appearances. The Good Wife tends to endorse liberal politics, but it refuses to set up straw man arguments in order to give cheap validation to those politics. The fact of the matter is that bigotry, hypocrisy, foolishness and stupidity exists on both sides of the aisle, a fact The Good Wife accentuates mercilessly time and time again. The series has plenty to make folks of any political belief system squirm a little bit, which is a sign it's achieving precisely what it sets out to achieve.
The cast is excellent from top to bottom, with the quietly resolved Margulies turning in good work as the title character. It's an understated role that the actress handles professionally and without much melodrama. The similarly subtle Chris Noth is a good choice as Peter, as he rides the line nicely between sly political charm and sad-sack sincerity. Josh Charles seems to be playing almost the exact same character as the one he played on Sports Night, albeit with a slightly tougher edge. Archie Panjabi (The Constant Gardener) is perhaps given the most challenging character, that of the cynical, friendly, cold, determined, impassioned, tough, take-charge assistant. While the character seems a bit overwritten, Panjabi sells everything simply by playing each scene with unwavering confidence.
The DVD transfer is quite stellar, with strong detail and depth throughout. It's a very polished effort that looks as good as a standard-def television transfer can. Audio is also solid, as the dialogue-heavy program is given a stellar mix. Supplements include deleted scenes for almost every episode, a handful of audio commentaries featuring show creators Robert & Michelle King along with assorted cast and crew members, some on-air promos plus two featurettes: "Aftermath: Real-Life Events" and "The Education of Alicia Florick: Making Season One."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Good Wife is a worthwhile program, but it needs some time. It took 8-10 episodes before I really began to take notice of the show's virtues, as the early episodes are just a bit too formulaic. In addition, Alicia and Peter's children aren't given quite enough development during this first season, starting out as important characters and then fading into the background all too often.
The Good Wife hasn't quite reached "one of the best shows on television" status just yet, but it's quite good. If you have an inclination towards legal shows, this is one of the better outings of recent years. Bring on season two.
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