I’ll begin my final blog post for CinemAddicts with a hopefully not too gratuitous personal update: I have recently committed to a masters program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. As such, I was hoping to review a political show set in Georgetown in order to get my mind right for my educational second act. Unfortunately I couldn’t find one, but the Georgetown connection that I did end up finding is perhaps even better: The Good Wife, which centers on protagonist Alicia Florrick, a tough as nails defense attorney, mother of two teenage children, wife of a corrupt Chicago politician, and a graduate of Georgetown's law school.
The CBS hour-long drama focuses on the life of Alicia Florrick in the aftermath of a very public sex and corruption scandal that implicates her husband Peter, a former Cook County state’s attorney. In order to provide for her children, Alicia must return to her old job as a litigator after taking 13 years off to be a stay-at-home mom.
The series starts the way that all well written and exciting narratives should start- in medias res. The very first moments of the pilot episode are heart racing. Alicia and her husband Peter stand in front of a mass of flashbulbs. At the podium, Peter admits to sexual misconduct but denies political wrongdoing. Alicia stands behind him, humiliated and ashen faced. From a writing standpoint, it’s a bold and attention grabbing first move, but certainly isn’t one that we haven’t seen before.
In fact, thanks to politicians like Elliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Jonathan Edwards and Bill Clinton, (among many, many others,) there is an extensive Wikipedia page devoted to listing political sex scandals in American federal politics. The list is formatted chronologically, and begins in 1796, going all the way to present day. It seems like as long as humans engage in both sex and politics, the two will periodically mix to produce disastrous results. And lost in the fray of gossip, media chaos and political drama, you can typically find a blindsided spouse who is left to pick up the pieces of a marriage, a family, and most egregiously, the political career of a philandering partner.
And that’s what is so fascinating about The Good Wife. It begins where, for the most part, media attention ends; life after the sheen of tawdry bedroom intrigue fades. The show follows Alicia and her fundamentally corrupt but deeply charismatic husband Peter, as they orchestrate a comeback, a return to normalcy, and ultimately, a second act.
Thematically, I really enjoy the attention that this show is paying to reinvention. In America, you can create a second life and purpose for yourself despite where you have come from or what you have done in the past. Alicia begins the show by evolving out of the necessity of scandal, but by the third season, she’s evolving for internal reasons- she sees the horizon of her potential, and she’s going for it.
The Good Wife has also succeeded in evenhandedly portraying political corruption and moral ambiguities. Typically, shows will idolize or satirize political conduct, but rarely do they portray characters as realistically flawed as Peter, Will (one of the partners of the law firm and another graduate of Georgetown,) and even Alicia. Television has lately been fixated on the antihero, and the main characters on The Good Wife almost seem like less extreme versions of Walter White. Alicia is a defense attorney after all, and the writers do not shy away from conveying the moral ambiguities of that job, or any other for that matter- politician, parent, litigator or spouse.
Watch The Good Wife. Don’t be turned off by its network location. It may not be HBO, but it is on par with any cable show in storytelling, acting and production. On the surface it may be a procedural, but the writers have found a way to blend procedural format with elegant, longstanding plot lines and dynamic, emotionally complex characters. And I’m not just saying that because I have to support my fellow (albeit fictional) Hoyas.