Judge Clark Douglas is still living with the shame of a horrid political scandal involving a filthy parakeet.
Our reviews of The Good Wife: The Fifth Season (published November 1st, 2014), The Good Wife: The First Season (published September 14th, 2010), The Good Wife: The Fourth Season (published September 2nd, 2013), and The Good Wife: The Third Season (published September 11th, 2012) are also available.
Don't let the name fool you.
"In ten minutes, either Bond will run this firm or we will."
Facts of the Case
Alicia Florick (Julianna Margulies, Ghost Ship) has been through a lot of exciting changes in the last year. She officially secured her role as a litigator at the high-powered Chicago law firm Stern, Lockhart and Gardner and her scandal-ridden husband Peter (Chris Noth, Sex and the City) was acquitted of corruption charges. Peter has launched a campaign to regain his old job as Cook County State's Attorney, while Alicia continues making efforts to prove her worth to her peers.
Alas, with all of these developments come a new series of complications. The Florick family is placed under increased strain as Peter's political campaign heats up, Alicia still harbors feelings for her employer Will Gardner (Josh Charles, Sports Night) and the law firm seems to be veering closer to splitting apart at the seams. One thing's for sure: the landscape of Alicia's life will have changed a great deal when the dust settles.
The first season of The Good Wife slowly began to hook me as it quietly transformed from just another legal drama with a gimmick into something more complex and compelling. That positive transformation continues in the second season, as The Good Wife quietly expands its scope until it becomes a drama of remarkably labyrinthine proportions. Yes, it's one of television's countless legal dramas, but it's also a political thriller, an engaging prime time soap opera, a family drama and (most prominently and importantly) a cynical, in-depth examination of the countless hypocrisies, backroom deals, compromises and power struggles that are required to maintain the facade of a fair and balanced legal system.
It takes a while to recognize the enormous scope of The Good Wife, as the show doesn't go out its way to accentuate its nature as a nuanced examination of large-scale problems. In the television promos, the show tends to accentuate its more conventional and familiar elements: the ripped-from-the-headlines cases (in this season, we have a Linsay Lohan-type figure, a faux Hugo Chavez figure and a Julian Assange-type figure, among others—not to mention a Lou Dobbs-type figure played by none other than Lou Dobbs) and the soapy romantic elements (will Alicia preserve her marriage or run off with Will?). The Good Wife could have been a perfectly tolerable bit of formulaic entertainment in the vein of CBS' other dramatic programs, but it consistently demonstrates a hunger to be much more.
The most compelling element of the show is arguably the manner in which it provides us with a step-by-step breakdown of political maneuvering. For instance, the race for State's Attorney was initially between Peter Florick and incumbent Glenn Childs (a typically stellar Titus Welliver, Deadwood). However, a third candidate named Wendy Scott-Carr (Anika Noni-Rose, Dreamgirls) has just entered the race. Though she probably doesn't have enough strength to beat Peter or Glenn in a one-on-one race, she could easily squeeze ahead as a front-runner in a three-way race. We soon witness Democratic party leaders attempting to convince one of the two initial candidates to step down and backroom deals being made between Peter & Glenn, between Glenn & Wendy and between Wendy & Peter.
Peter's campaign manager is Eli Gold (Alan Cumming, Tin Man), a slippery and fiercely intelligent strategist who is thrown into many of The Good Wife's most compelling scenarios. His job is not only to find dirt on Peter's opponents, but also to determine when, where, how and whether that dirt should be used. When he discovers that Wendy paid $19,000 for breast implants a couple of years ago, he has a number of factors to consider. Will that information humanize her or alienate her from Chicago voters? If it's discovered that Peter's campaign leaked the information, could that hurt Peter's chances? If such a blatant personal attack is made, how much damage could Peter suffer at the hands of a Wendy Scott-Carr revenge campaign? Eli's ultimate solution is a masterstroke of sleazeball campaigning; as fascinating as it is mortifying.
The actual courtroom cases have grown increasingly compelling as the series has progressed, as the writers have grown stronger at using these cases to explore larger themes in a subtle way. There's increasingly less and less material on The Good Wife which feels like filler, though that may largely be due to the steady trickle of fantastic guest stars the show stuffs into its courtroom scenes. My favorite of these recurring players is Louis Canning (an exceptional Michael J. Fox, Spin City), a physically disabled attorney who shamelessly uses his condition to manipulate the emotions of the jury. The large assembly of judges The Good Wife employs is also impressive, as we're given fine turns from the likes of Ana Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live), Denis O'Hare (True Blood), David Paymer (Ocean's Thirteen) and David Wolos-Fonteno (Law and Order).
The cast feels increasingly expansive as time passes, but the series has proven adept at juggling its large supply of characters. Rather than attempting to give everyone equal time and equal emphasis (an approach which often leads to an inordinate amount of time being spent on unnecessary subplots in other programs), The Good Wife simply allows its characters to slip between the background and foreground as needed (though Alicia always manages to be front and center to at least some degree). Diane (Christine Baranski, Cybill) will be heavily involved in the proceedings for a couple of episodes, then she'll merely be a bit player for a little while. Fortunately, no one feels significantly short-changed and almost everyone gets to enjoy some substantial character development. Best of all, Alan Cumming's Eli Gold has been upgraded from recurring guest star to primary cast member, meaning we get a whole lot more of Cumming's deliciously weaselly performance this time around.
The DVD transfer is a typically solid modern TV transfer, offering sturdy detail and depth throughout. A few shots look a little soft, but it's not a significant problem. The series also seems to become a little more visually inventive as it proceeds; offering a variety of intriguing angles and editing techniques which set it apart from every other legal drama on a surface level. Audio is fine as well, though I still think the Thomas Newman-esque music courtesy of David Buckley could be a shade less conventional. Supplements include a handful of featurettes ("Season One DVD Release Party," "Alicia Florick: Real Deal," "An Evening with The Good Wife" and "A Conversation with the Kings"), some videos courtesy of Mr. Alan Cumming, deleted scenes and campaign music videos. Lightweight but engaging stuff.
The Good Wife: The Second Season delivers 23 episodes of above-average television; allowing us to observe as a good show steadily gets better. It's certainly the best CBS show on the air right now and very well might be the best drama on network television (even if it's not quite up to the standards of the best cable programming just yet). Here's hoping the progress continues in season three.
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