The Good Wife: Season 1
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The Good Wife is a female-driven drama about a politician's wife who pursues her own career as a defense attorney after her husband is sent to jail on charges of political corruption. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) will not only have to deal with her career but also with keeping her family together by providing a stable home for her two children.
The Good Wife is a compelling drama about Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), a strong, articulate woman whose life has been turned upside down by the actions of her husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), a state's attorney who's been disgraced by a sex scandal and imprisoned for abusing his position in office. The series begins with a press conference in which Peter apologizes for his personal indiscretions and denies any professional wrongdoing, but the focus of this series is all on Alicia--how she endures the moment in front of the press, the personal impact of the experience just after the cameras are turned off, and how that instant in time will affect every aspect of her life from that moment on. A middle-aged woman accustomed to charity events and luxury in the suburbs, Alicia is suddenly forced to abandon her old life, move to an apartment in the city, and reenter the workforce as a junior associate in a local law firm in order to support herself and her two teenage children. Add in the extra baggage of the very public sex scandal, competition from a young and highly ambitious twentysomething lawyer (Matt Czuchry) at the firm, and a coworker (Archie Panjabi) whom her husband once fired, and things become really tricky for Alicia. The story is about much more than Alicia's reentry into the courtroom; it's about how everything in her life has changed and how every decision she makes impacts her future. Excellent writing and the powerful performances of Margulies and her costars make this series absolutely captivating. The blend of personal drama, courtroom action, sexual indiscretion, family dynamics, and political scandal is perfectly balanced and, as in real life, everything is complexly interwoven. The most compelling thing about the series is Margulies herself: she is completely believable as Alicia Florrick--everything she feels and thinks comes across as totally real to viewers, sometimes without even one word of dialogue, and viewers can't help but relate to everything she's going through and wonder what they might do in a similar situation. Viewers struggle right along with Alicia as she oscillates between self-confidence and self-doubt, resolve and vulnerability, hatred for her husband's infidelity and an inexplicable resilient love for him, even in the face of her renewed attraction to her former law school classmate and now-boss Will (Josh Charles). Viewers share in her determination to remain strong and somehow balance the demands of work and family. Panjabi is commanding in her breakout role as Kalinda, an extremely pragmatic investigator who regularly defies convention and will go to almost any length to get the information she needs, and every interaction between Alicia and Kalinda is simply electric. Christine Baranski is also stellar in her role as Diane Lockhart, a firm partner who sees Alicia both as someone to mentor and as a personal threat.
Besides the 23-episode season, this six-disc set contains quite a few deleted scenes (they get longer as the season progresses) and special features that include on-air promos and a discussion of some of the real-life scandals that caused the writers to ponder the wronged wife's point of view. The hour-and-15-minute-long "Education of Alicia Florrick: Making Season One" features cocreators/writers/executive producers Robert King and Michelle King and executive producer David W. Zucker, along with many of the actors and other important production crew members. They discuss the making of the pilot, location work, casting, costuming, photographic vision, and the show's groundbreaking point of view (they also offer a hint about the focus of the second season). Optional commentaries are available for several episodes and feature Robert King, Michelle King, Zucker, and executive producer Brooke Kennedy. --Tami Horiuchi
Commentary: Robert King/ Charles McDougall
Commentary: Robert King, Michelle King, David Zucker and Brooke Kennedy
Commentary: Christine Baranski/ Josh Charles/ Robert King/ Michelle King
The Education of Alicia Florrick: Making Season One
Aftermath: Real -Life Events
Robert King, Michelle King, David Zucker and Brooke Kennedy
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The series' opening scene involves Peter's wife, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies, ER), nobly, and humiliatingly, backing up Peter as he announces to the press he is resigning. Then the scene switches to six months in the future. Peter is in jail. Alicia has been forced to downsize from a big house to an apartment, and she's looking for a job. For her entire marriage, Alicia has sacrificed her education and professional talents in favor of supporting her husband's political career and caring for their two children, now young teenagers. But with Peter's needs now moot, and his income gone, it's time to dust off her law degree and seek a paid position.
Though she is forty-something and out of touch with the legal world, Alicia manages to use one of her own connections to snag a position as a junior associate at the firm of a friend from law school, Will Gardner (Josh Charles, best known for Sports Night). But the job has two major drawbacks. First, Will sees her as the one that got away, and Alicia is in no mood for that kind of complication. And, second, the job is not secure. She is in competition with another new junior associate, Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry, Rory's college boyfriend in Gilmore Girls), who is the very definition of a whiz kid. Worse, though Cary is extremely competitive, Alicia is naturally collegial and kind, and it goes totally against the grain for her to try and cut anyone out.
I was sold on this show from the opening scene of the pilot. Every actor in it is great, but the three main female actors are particular standouts. First and foremost, Margulies is wonderful. In fact, one might say she was made for this part. It requires some of the most difficult skills an actor can have, in my humble opinion, to subtly indicate a whole range of emotion on the face of a character who is dignified and reserved by nature. Margulies manages to accomplish this with astounding ease given the limitations of her character's personality. It would have been out of character, for example, for Alicia to employ standard "bits of business" that other actors use such as grabbing or shoving to show anger. Instead, she shows subtle nuances of expression. Most of all, Margulies reveals Alicia to us by displaying in every scene perhaps Alicia's most sterling virtue, a quiet empathy which connects her to and draws out every other character she comes in contact with. This quality coupled with keen observation and a brilliant, analytical mind are the main attributes that allow Alicia to not only succeed as a trial attorney but to solve mysteries surrounding the cases she takes on--allowing this series to be a fascinating combination of mystery, political, legal and relationship drama, all rolled into one. Most of all, Margulies's talent as an actor allows the audience to understand and believe in every choice that Alicia makes, no matter how difficult, from the loyalty she displays to the unfaithful husband she obviously has loved deeply for many years, to her firm but affectionate relationship with her children, to her tactful handling of her meddling mother-in-law, to her often morally ambiguous encounters with her co-workers and her clients.
The second amazing woman in this series is the ever marvelous Christine Baranski (Mamma Mia! and Cybill) as Diane Lockhart, a co-partner with Alicia's boss Will. It does not surprise me that a comic actor as phenomenal as Baranski is also an outstanding dramatic actor. Most actors seem to agree that doing comedy is so difficult that drama seems comparatively easy. In this series, Baranski's character Diane has a complex relationship with Alicia and has plenty of juicy plot lines of her own.
The third female actor whose performance I greatly admire is Archie Panjaba (the heroine's older sister in Bend It Like Beckham), who plays the enigmatic Kalinda Sharma. Kalinda rather rapidly develops what seems to be a strong friendship with Alicia, demonstrating an amazing amount of helpfulness and loyalty to her. But Kalinda's background and true intentions toward Alicia remain intriguingly unclear throughout the whole first season.
Among the male actors, my personal favorite is the fabulously versatile Scottish actor Alan Cumming (Glitch the Scarecrow in Tin Man and Nightcrawler in X-Men). He plays Peter's cunning political adviser, Eli Gold, and this role is the dead opposite of the odd, quirky types he's most famous for. Eli is conservative and muted, almost benignly invisible in his presentation to the general public. But underneath he seethes with passion and is a powerful, back-room player in the world of politics. His relationship with Alicia is one of the most dynamic in the series and his role in one of the key decisions she makes at the climax of season 1 is absolutely pitch perfect. And, by the way, his American accent is perfect.
I personally adore dramas that present the protagonist with moral dilemmas every week that are filled with shades of gray. This series abounds in that dynamic. I also much prefer dramas that have two clear story tracks, the protagonist's professional life (in this series a weekly legal case for Alicia to pursue, with a frequent mystery thrown into the mix as I mentioned above), and the protagonist's personal life. Because of Peter's scandal, there are plenty of juicy sinkholes for Alicia to inadvertently step into as she weaves her way through a landscape of seemingly endless people who want to use her or abuse her because of her connection to her husband. This thread in the series has allowed it to avoid falling into the aggravating pattern of so many dramatic TV series of melodramatic emphasis on the personal failings of the protagonist and her close family members in ways that often turn that protagonist from sympathetic to pathetic and annoying. I am greatly hoping this series continues to avoid that pitfall for many years to come.
1. Julianne Margulies, foremost, plays the "good wife" in perfect pitch. The wife wronged by her successful, ambitious, attractive, but absolutely corrupt husband (the gorgeous Chris Noth) as a fallen, disreputable district attorney, you know, the kind voters love to put back into office. Then there's the sex scandal that horribly embarrasses both his "good wife" and children? What is her reaction to his scandal? How does she cope?
2. Her education as an attorney, no, not just an attorney, but an insightful, resourceful, brilliant attorney, not only gets her a job quickly, but proves she deserves it.
3. Kalinda, the private investigator is the biggest mystery on the show. Just whose side is she on? Just whom has she been intimate with? She represents the ultimate pragmatist, the bottom-liner. She gets my vote as the most mysterious and intriguing of all the characters!
4. Add the mother-in-law, who is helping out while son tries to get out of jail. Viewers eventually discover that she is one of those controlling mothers who push their children onto the success track at any cost.
5. One strand involves the growing attraction between Margulies and her male boss whom she knew in college. Although not the gorgeous, virile type (like her husband), he represents the intelligent, successful, but perpetual bachelor, one to be wary of.
6. Which also includes office politics and two more fascinating characters: the driven woman partner (whose own love interest is one of the pings later described) and the young male attorney also vying for the one slot that both the Margulies character and he fiercely want.
6. Another Subplot involves her son and a cougar-like older girl intent on using the boy for her own devious plans.
Now wrap all this back story into the various strands that it takes to create a tightly woven plot, utterly fascinating, utterly unpredictable. Ping! What?! Yes, something came loose. What is it? Something that makes this series so gripping, so unexpected, so dramatic that viewers are on the edge of their seats, expectant, breathless. Frankly, I've been stunned any number of times.
Addition: Two days after publishing this review, I realized I had covered only one-half of the program. The personal lives of the characters make up one-half, the other half concerns the weekly trial (after all, this is partially a courtroom drama). Each case is unique and equally fascinating. Just as in real life, each case is not necessarily resolved for the viewer's total satisfaction. Sometimes the viewer--and the attorney--don't really know if the client is truly innocent. This holding to what actually happens also makes this series a winner--provocative, perspicacious, gripping. Verisimilitude is practiced here.
"The Good Wife" is what television should be about: quality of the highest order. This is not a series a viewer can simply tune into with the mistaken notion of joining the story. It's too complicated, too nuanced for such a cavalier attitude. That's what makes "The Good Wife: The First Season" so essential--it provides a full appreciation of this excellent and outstanding drama! Frankly, my viewing mode is in idle for the summer, barely containing a great desire to discover what in the world will happen next!