Why you should care
It’s not the first time you’ve heard it: This is the legal drama you need to be watching.
There is nothing cool about an obsession with The Good Wife. Toss out a few Alicia-and-Will references at a party and the TV snobs will act like you just professed a love of cockfights. Let them hate. The CBS drama deserves respect, even if it is a lowly network show. Sure, some of its plot twists are silly — gosh, look at the evidence Kalinda just found! — but this is not one of those legal dramas with big car chases and hero lawyers saving homeless waifs.
Look closely and you’ll see a dark undercurrent to The Good Wife, an evil streak rarely seen on the networks. Characters gleefully lie and cheat. Outside of soap operas, the amount of deceit is unparalleled on network TV. Even the good guys lie. They lie in court. They lie to their loved ones. Sometimes there are consequences; often not.
No doubt, making this work in prime time is not easy. The producers have assembled an all-star stable of veteran Broadway and movie actors who relish the chance to roll around in the mud, including Nathan Lane, Jeffrey Tambor and Kyle MacLachlan. And you can’t leave out Alan Cumming, who has created the relentlessly devious campaign strategist Eli Gold.
No doubt Alicia sees the line she is crossing. And then she crosses it anyway.
But the premise lives and dies with Julianna Margulies and her portrayal of Alicia Florrick, the wine-swilling politician’s wife of the title. Over six seasons, the humiliated but loyal betrayed wife has become a cunning operative herself, well-versed in sparring with a scandal-hungry media. As portrayed by Margulies, Alicia is no plucky divorcée making it on her own: She’s a high-powered attorney with political ambitions who’s come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with her cheating, estranged husband. And she can be a real bitch. Alicia is Mary Tyler Moore, if Mary were willing to shank a co-worker or take an occasional break for a quickie in the bathroom.
We are constantly reminded that Alicia is not always a good person. When Alicia leaves her firm, she actively deceives some of her closest allies, including her partners and her former lover. Faced with losing a case, Alicia ignores rules, manipulates the system and finds loopholes to exploit. Her choices remind viewers that morals and loyalty are not always black-and-white.
Unlike most of her peers, Alicia wrestles with her dark side. Nevertheless, her dark side still kicks ass. “She really is a good girl, so everything comes with a huge, heavy price for her,” Margulies said in an interview in 2011. That price simmers beneath the surface for Alicia, which is why Margulies often beats out the leading ladies of cable for big awards. You can see the gears whirring behind the chilly exterior. No doubt Alicia sees the line she is crossing. And then she crosses it anyway.
That line is most visible in Alicia’s relationship with her biggest client, Lemond Bishop, a notorious drug dealer (portrayed with rakish charm by Mike Colter). There is no moralizing about her relationship with Bishop. No preachy dialogue about how everybody is entitled to a lawyer. Everyone, including the audience, knows what’s going on — Alicia is doing business with a drug lord and killer because it’s good business. When the money exchanges hands, she doesn’t care about its source. Her ethics are easily buried by the thinnest of legal dodges. The result is a sinister wink-wink banter between Margulies and Bishop, which often produces some of the show’s funniest — and darkest — moments.