The Good Wife: “Anatomy Of A Joke”
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The Good Wife: “Anatomy Of A Joke”

The Good Wife is network TV’s finest example of a show that can keep a lot of plots spinning at once, and usually there’s a beautiful coherence to it. The show has its fingers in many pies—courtroom drama, political campaign narratives, private investigator feuds—but always manages to weave everything together with surprising deftness. Well, almost always. “Anatomy Of A Joke” wasn’t horrible, but it was very messy indeed, and its best moments got lost in a sea of weird, disconnected plotlines.

The main legal plot, about a provocative comedian (Christina Ricci) fighting a network and the FCC over baring her breasts on a talk show for a bit about cancer examinations, just never really got any traction. Ricci was game, and did her best, but her casting was a very confusing choice. I know this show already had Sarah Silverman on as a guest star, but come on, there’s gotta be another comedian out there who can do this stuff better. When a decent chunk of the role demands you either be performing stand-up comedy or being spontaneously funny in tense, serious situations, authenticity is what’s going to sell it, and Ricci just did not exude authenticity.

The case was also confusing and dull, in all the wrong ways. The network is suing comedian Therese Dodd for damages, but it’ll drop the suit if she can convince the FCC that she was acting out of grief for her recently-deceased mother. It’s also happy to help her argue in front of the FCC (mostly so the delightful F. Murray Abraham, returning as LA shark Burl Preston, gets as much screentime as possible), which begs the question of why the network is suing before the FCC has even issued a fine. Sure, they lost advertisers, but as Burl happily argues to the FCC, they also got a corresponding boost in ratings. That ends up torpedoing him, and it’s a remarkably amateur way for such a bigshot to lose the case of the week, making the whole thing feel even more inconsequential.

This all gets paired with an insight into Cary, in what is his first real showcase episode of the season. This was probably the most intriguing material of the hour, with John Shea (whom we all remember from Lois & Clark and Mutant X and Gossip Girl, right?) turning in a satisfactorily frosty performance as Cary’s jerk lobbyist of a dad who never calls and never writes. The father-son estrangement is perhaps a little trite—“I only needed one call on my birthday!” Cary complains when his dad asks him to call Diane to put a good word for him about a job in Chicago. But I had been so starved of good Cary material, I didn’t even care, and I really liked his moments with Alicia in the hotel room when they talked about their initial negative impressions of each other.  

But then the show tries to do way too much for no good reason by suggesting that Cary has a crush on Therese, or her on him, or something, and she makes out with him in front of an FCC commissioner at one point, and it’s all very confusing. It especially doesn’t follow because this episode isn’t about Cary being timid around women; it’s about him standing up to his mean old dad and not being intimidated by him anymore. So why crowbar in a bunch of other bullshit? I could have done with another Alicia/Cary powwow instead of all that silliness. Anyway, in the end, Therese gets off, and Bill Maher gets to make a cameo.

Peter continues to fight off the imaginary campaign worker sex allegations, and Eli decides to go nuclear to distract the press, sending Kalinda to find out about the possibility that Maddie is sleeping with her own aide (a lady). Instead, she finds that Maddie and Peter’s accuser are in cahoots, and have been for a month, which is… surprising, I suppose. I’d care more if this didn’t feel like such a non-story to us. I get that the writers are trying to show us how difficult it can be to fight media scrutiny even when a story is definitively untrue. But because we know it’s untrue, it’s hard to get excited when the news “breaks” that she says Peter has the outline of Brazil birthmarked on his penis.  Everyone laughs it off, of course (save poor Eli), but since the ambiguity of this storyline is gone, it’s starting to feel like a real stall tactic to save the juicier campaign material for later in the year.

Much more intriguing is the return of last week’s Laura Hellinger (Amanda Peet), who has quit the JAG and is looking for a job. Alicia, still feeling guilty for losing that case, helps her land a spot at Peter’s office, and the implication is that he’s digging himself a deeper hole by hiring all these white people while Geneva glowers in the background. I think? It’s hard to tell if Laura was being given a regular ASA job, or Cary’s bigshot deputy job. Either way, the breadcrumbs are definitely being dropped here, I think. Peter means well, and he’s trying to make his wife happy rather than some political ally, but this is the stuff that reeks of deal making, and it could screw him in the long run.

Clarke, meanwhile, finally shows some teeth after he dangles Lockhart/Gardner in front of Burl, leading Will and Diane to spring into action and give David Lee some leverage in exchange for saving their asses. Too bad, since F. Murray Abraham would be a totally worthy addition to the cast, plus then we could have some crazy L.A. divorce cases (spinoff, anyone?) But the main point is: No more Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to Clarke. He’s had enough of Will and Diane wriggling out of his zone of influence, and now they’re going to war. That’s fine, but this is also starting to feel like a storyline that’s stalling for time before some big twist down the road. Glad to see Clarke’s finally taking some action, though.

Stray observations:

  • The car-horn censoring of the word “tits” in the opening scene was… cute. Probably too cute.
  • Funny that Bill Maher could cameo, but the guy playing the late-night host looked like an extra someone had shoved a shitty Jay Leno wig onto.
  • Burl has the best line of the night, warning Clarke about Lockhart and Gardner. “They enjoy intrigue more than they do making money.”

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