Review: The Good Wife 1×1 (US: CBS)

A pro-women show with some subtlety

The Good Wife

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS

A lot of ‘pro-women’ (I use the quotes advisedly) TV is surprisingly crude. Often, it seems to think that as long as women are the protagonists and are seen to win through at the end, any old rubbish stereotypes are allowed, men can be the universal enemy and the women can be a bit thick and backward but win through in the end through friendship. Characterisation often takes a back seat to fluffy ideals and any real world nuances seem to get lost. It’s as if TV writers can believe the theory, but can’t believe the practice.

Since leaving ER, Julianna Margulies has had a couple of stabs at ‘pro women’ vehicles. Canterbury’s Law went to the other extreme of ‘pro-women’ TV by having Margulies play a complete a-hole – basically a woman lawyer who acted exactly like an a-hole male lawyer in every way. It deservedly got cancelled within about three milliseconds.

The Good Wife is her latest effort and it’s considerably more promising. Margulies once again plays a lawyer, albeit one who hasn’t practised in 13 years since she’s been bringing up her family. When her politician husband (Sex and the City‘s Chris Noth) is incarcerated and revealed to have been having affairs with hookers, she’s forced to become the family wage-earner and rediscover herself.

It’s still a little bit crude, but it’s considerably more interesting than most such programmes and attempts to demonstrate that older women still have something to offer that maybe their younger colleagues don’t.

Plot
THE GOOD WIFE is a drama starring Emmy Award winner Julianna Margulies as a wife and mother who boldly assumes full responsibility for her family and re-enters the workforce after her husband’s very public sex and political corruption scandal lands him in jail. Pushing aside the betrayal and public humiliation caused by her husband, Peter, Alicia Florrick starts over by pursuing her original career as a defense attorney. As a junior associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm, she joins her longtime friend, former law school classmate and firm partner Will Gardner, who is interested to see how Alicia will perform after 13 years out of the courtroom. Alicia is grateful the firm’s top litigator, Diane Lockhart, offers to mentor her but discovers the offer has conditions and realizes she’s going to need to succeed on her own merit. Alicia’s main competition among the firm’s 20-something new recruits is Cary, a recent Harvard grad who is affable on the surface, but is competitive to the core. Fortunately, Alicia finds an ally in Kalinda, the firm’s tough in-house investigator. Gaining confidence every day, Alicia transforms herself from embarrassed politician’s scorned wife to resilient career woman, especially for the sake of providing a stable home for her children, 14-year-old Zach and 13-year-old Grace. For the first time in years, Alicia trades in her identity as the “good wife” and takes charge of her own destiny.

Is it any good?
Mostly, yes. It’s still a legal drama, so as with all legal dramas, we have Margulies stuck in a courtroom all day, earnestly fighting her client’s corner (I’m guessing they’re all going to be helpless young women, but you never know).

But it’s still reasonably clever. It doesn’t quite have the ‘all men bad, all women good’ theme of some shows, with Margulies law school friend, Will, getting her the job and her supposed mentor and co-networker, Diane, feeling threatened by her. The difficulties of discovering a partner has had an affair aren’t given a trite glossover with simple solutions. There’s a perceptible gulf between Margulies’ character and her younger, female co-workers, with Margulies’ life experiences coming in useful in her job. And Margulies isn’t seen to be all-knowing and merely undervalued, despite her long absence from the courtroom: she makes mistakes, but the ones anyone would make, rather than the over the top ones that normally accompany this kind of set-up.

There are still touches of crudeness in the dialogue (eg “You’ve obviously never angered a woman before”) and the constant mentioning of her husband by seemingly everyone involved, whenever humanly possible. Margulies is engrossing and likeable, but her children and mother-in-law are a little bland at the moment. New best friend and in-house investigator isn’t especially likeable and is quite crude as well (apparently a bit of cleavage is all it takes to convince a security guard to hand over evidence that will incriminate himself).

But it’s promising, and has a bit more depth and subtlety than most legal/pro-women shows.