Friday, April 22, 2011

How Long Can 'The Good Wife' Stay Good?

Every couple years, a TV series explores the idea of what it means to be a good person. The main characters on Friday Night Lights embody solid American values of honesty, family and, rather literally, taking one for the team. And yet it has never devolved into a simplistic, syrupy, Touched By an Angel-style morality play.

But no show I can think of has toyed with the idea that life is a series of moral choices so deliberately — and so tortuously — as CBS' The Good Wife. Alicia Florrik (Julianna Margulies) is, literally, the good wife, who publicly stood by her politician husband Peter (Chris Noth) when it was revealed he cheated on her. Week after week the central conflict uncovers another fulcrum of morality. Some episodes skirt by it, as in last week's convoluted, how-to-deal-with-a-lying-dictator, one-off. But whether it's an ethical violation of Alicia's relationship with her husband for gain at work or the perpetual lying and slithering a lawyer must do to get the best deal for his client, The Good Wife pokes at the morality of work vs. the morality of home — a mutual exclusivity that Alicia doesn't buy into, but those around her do.

The beauty of this carefully plotted series is it makes such choices ever present and ever murky. Its compact scenes bring characters to multi-dimensional life rather than reduce them to types. It may be heightened but, as in life, the moral conflicts are rarely black and white, but rather shades of gray. "Good" people do bad things, "bad" people do good. Being a good wife, a good person, can mean making questionable choices. Even cunning campaign manager Eli (Alan Cumming, in his best performance ever) has lately become guilt-addled.

Alicia has high, exacting standards and she works overtime to maintain her professional, even inscrutable, demeanor. But (mild spoiler alert!), considering the latest revelations, we probably won't see more bonding drinks sessions between Kalinda and Alicia, as in the photo above. The question is, How far will Alicia be driven before she can no longer be so "good"?

Watch this space in the coming weeks for my recaps of 'The Good Wife.'


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