The Good Wife: The Good Wife - "Running"
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The Good Wife: The Good Wife - "Running"

I have never met a show I respected more and loved less than The Good Wife. Every week, I dutifully queue up the show on the DVR and marvel at the way it blends one-off legal storylines with character development and social issues storytelling. Every week, I find two or three scenes in the episode that I think are absolutely fantastic, terrific ways of telling the story of the show without going too far into over-explanation or anything, like Chris Noth standing in the door of his apartment, house arrest band around his ankle, bouncing a tennis ball out into the hallway, or Julianna Margulies pretty much ravaging Noth after sharing some sexy moments with Josh Charles.

I watch every episode, and I enjoy every episode, and I am impressed by just how much the show is able to squeeze out of the old workplace drama model. And then every week, I have to force myself to watch the new episode. Once I'm done, and I'm still in love, I say, "Man, why didn't I want to watch that?" But the next week rolls around, and I'm not interested, and it takes me a moment to remember just how much I liked the last episode. It's a never-ending cycle, and I don't know why I'm stuck in it. But I like the show, and I respect the show, and I'm giving the finale an A because it was about as well-executed as you're going to see this sort of thing, but I just have no compulsion to watch the show from week to week. Something about it just doesn't compel me, even as I'm completely willing to say it will deserve all of the Emmys it wins in the fall. It doesn't deserve to win, say, Best Drama Series, but if it does, I won't find it a travesty of justice or anything. Instead, I'll nod and say, "That's a good show. No desire to watch it."

There are niggling things to complain about in The Good Wife. Tonight, the one-off legal storyline is mostly just an excuse to trot out Amy Acker just long enough for all of the Internet to salivate, and the show seems to almost forget about it as it gets into the character stuff. And yet, this should be a good thing. Hell, it IS a good thing. That the show often seems to care about the legal stuff only insofar as the legal stuff makes it vaguely resemble a network TV show and not an AMC-style character study is what makes it a show I really respect, a show I didn't ditch, even when it seemed like every other case was going to be solved by Margulies squinting really hard at things and figuring things out using her super powers of being a lady. (Seriously, "women's intuition" was the solution to something like a third of the cases this season.)

Make no mistake: The Good Wife is probably the single best show we didn't cover on a week-to-week basis here at The AV Club this TV season. Even though the readership for such a thing would be miniscule, we should probably add it next fall. There is stuff here that is just remarkably understated for a network drama, like that long shot of Kalinda's leg stepping closer to the federal agent she's been flirting with, suggesting that the two were kissing without being salacious about it, and framed in a way you wouldn't think of seeing on a TV show. This is a smart, smart series, and it doesn't really flaunt how smart it is, instead just choosing to casually suggest its own genius.

And yet, I can't help but think that the fact I don't ever come around to loving the show has something to do with the fact that in that opening paragraph, I was simply unable to come up with any of the characters' names. It took me a while to think of Alicia, and she's the main character of the show, and I have to go to IMDB to tell you the names of everybody else. Part of this is the function of having a cast full of TV luminaries who have been successful on previous shows. Part of it is the fact that the show seems to be as much about their acting as it is their characters. And part of it is the fact that this is a show where everybody kinda talks the same. They're all smart, intelligent people who have similar cadences and are always talking in legalese. (This may be why Alan Cummings' Eli Gold and Gary Cole's Kurt McVeigh stand out so readily in my mind: Both come from outside of the law firm and the Florrick family, and that makes both of them wild cards in the show's universe.)

But, Lord, I kind of hate myself for complaining about this, because I have the episode on again, and I'm watching Kalinda track down the storage unit again, and it's just exquisitely well done. It's something you've seen before, but this show makes it seem fresh and new and exciting. Or I'm about to watch a scene where Diane is going to go visit Kurt, and he's going to invite her in, and it's going to feel ever-so-slightly dangerous and slyly fun, as the two exchange barely expressed smiles. The Good Wife is, to a degree, about people who live their lives in public and, thus, have to keep everything tamped down. But the show is so good at just suggesting what's going on beneath the placid surfaces of the characters.

And man, the show has been good at developing its storylines this season. Alicia and Peter's marriage simultaneously crumbling and being built up was delicately handled, as was Alicia and Will's season-long dance around the idea of getting together. Tossing Kurt and Diane into a relationship felt originally like some sort of "He likes Sarah Palin, but she likes Hillary Clinton!" sitcom wackiness, but the show and the actors have made it work. And I like the way the show suggests just how having Cary at the rival firm will make next season's conflicts even more present.

But the best reason to watch this show remains Kalinda, one of the best characters on TV, hands down. It's a tricky thing to do to create a character who seems like she could be about 15 different things, but the writers and Archie Panjabi have done just that with Kalinda. I can see where some are frustrated with her generalized sense of mystery, wishing they had something they could hold on to, but Panjabi plays this borderline cipher almost perfectly, something I'm not sure other actresses could do, and the writers never tire of tossing her into new situations that make you question what she actually feels and what she's just doing to get one step ahead of everybody else.

By all accounts, The Good Wife has had a stellar first season. Entertainment Weekly, of all things, called it the best show on TV. I can see what everybody sees in it, and I can appreciate it on that level without moving past that to really love everything about it. It feels like one of those movies that come out around Oscar season that seem to hold you at arm's length because they're being so good at being prestigious. The Good Wife is, I guess, the Atonement of TV. And that's not a bad thing. I like both. I just don't know that I'd ever count either among my absolute favorites.

Finale grade: A

Season grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • This doesn't feel like a CBS show, but it has some connections to the rest of the network, namely in the really awful music that plays every time anyone investigates anything.
  • Mary Beth Peil is really underrated on this show as Alicia's mother-in-law. I loved her scene with the pastor tonight.
  • Alicia's speech to Will about how she needs a plan and how PTA meetings are harder than poetry was just terrifically written.
  • I saw a commercial where Alicia was trying to decide whether to join her husband on stage or answer a call from Will. "I'll bet that's the cliffhanger," I told my wife. "Of course it is," she said. "CBS has to prepare its audience for sudden plot twists." And, lo and behold, it WAS the cliffhanger.

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