Has ‘The Good Wife’ Become Formulaic?’

[21 August 2013]

By Jose Solis

By this time it’s safe to say that The Good Wife has developed a formula. During each of its four seasons we have seen Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) at the center of a big scandal or dramatic news story that stretches for the duration of the season and sets up what will come next. First, it was her husband Peter’s (Chris Noth) infidelity which sent her looking for a job and ending up practicing law again, then it was her affair with her boss Will Gardner (Josh Charles) which threatened her newfound respect at the workplace and during the fourth season she played the role of loving, supporting wife to Peter as he ran for governor of Illinois.

In between these prominent arcs, we see Alicia tend to her cases which usually involve strange motives and stranger clients. By remaining so safe to follow and watch, the CBS show has become perhaps the best drama on network television, the only one without sensationalist twists that week after week relies on fine acting and impeccable writing.

So does this mean that the show has stopped challenging itself? In a time where we are bombarded with “event” television which we can consume in a binge, does the traditional structure of The Good Wife make it feel more like a relic? Has the show’s classic format made it old fashioned? The fourth season began with promise, as we had just found out that Alicia would try to make amends with her cheating husband and discovered that the ever mysterious Kalinda (played by Archi Panjabi) had a husband of her own. (Nick played by Marc Warren as someone who just burst out of a Guy Ritchie movie.)

Within the very first episodes we were given the idea that the characters were up for some wilder thrills, but the truth of the matter is, that these storylines which, unarguably weren’t precisely working, were wrapped up in myriad incongruous ways. The biggest of these botched stories was of course that of Kalinda and her husband. First she hid him from everyone she knows, then he began to threaten her with revealing secrets and after some strange subplot involving one of Kalinda’s female lovers, Nick was sent away without any bells and whistles. It seems as if the writers are still figuring out what to do with Kalinda, who as portrayed by the sensuous Panjabi, never ceases to be a wildly rich character who doesn’t really need to have a complicated backstory. Haven’t they realized that we like Kalinda being a complete enigma?

At the same time, it’s interesting to realize that the writers are trying to take these characters outside their boxes, for we can’t smile and approve all of Kalinda’s quirks, before we wonder how long will it be until we crave to see her more human side. This season she got a sidekick in the shape of the perky Robyn (Jess Weixler) a character who seems to have two purposes: take over Kalinda if the writers decide to send her away and also inspired one of the season’s most fascinating storylines, as it became obvious that there was some huge salary inequity within Lockhart Gardner. The latter part of the season focused in how the lower rank employees, some of whom we’d probably never even seen before, started to complain and decided to form a union. This gave path to some of the season’s most exciting moments as creators Robert and Michelle King found a way to include real life into their show without recurring to sensationalist “ripped from the headlines” twists.

Sadly, it was until the latter part of the season when the characters finally were allowed to be who they are and instead of trying out weird unfitting personas, they were back to being the complex humans we enjoy watching week after week. After a slight misstep which involved her being frenemies with a competitive woman (played by Maura Tierney) she went back to focusing on her future which led to the greatest season finale cliffhanger yet. Peter stopped his sliminess from getting in the way of his political career and showed us a vulnerability that ought to remind us just what a great actor Noth truly is and the sensational Alan Cumming, who plays Eli Gold, continued as an unofficial mediator between the Florricks personal and political lives.

If The Good Wife has indeed become formulaic, it still remains a pleasure to see them do what they do in such an efficient way. Appearances by regulars like scene-stealer Carrie Preston, Stockard Channing, Anika Noni Rose, Michael J. Fox and Matthew Perry continue to be pleasant without turning the show into a The Love Boat-like celebrity sighting fest, while characters who weren’t as important in previous seasons revealed new layers that promise to continue offering great television in the future.

The show is presented in a DVD set which includes all 22 episodes as well as several featurettes and making-of bonus features including “Seat of Power: Directing Seat of Power: Directing The Good Wife”, “Standards & Practices: Sex and Seat of Power: Directing The Good Wife”, “Style Evolution: The Fashion of Seat of Power: Directing The Good Wife”, and “The Ties that Bind”.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/174654-the-good-wife-the-fourth-season/