Bless THE GOOD WIFE. Last season’s most pleasant surprise returns to put more cerebral goodness into a powerful courtroom drama. In a fall season as tepid as this (it’s sad when MY GENERATION, mediocre by all standards, is the most ambitious of the new fall series), I welcome WIFE’s finely-calibrated approach to the procedural and serial: Poppable as any CBS drama, it rewards returning viewers with a rich, sexy narrative that’s part-thriller, part-soap opera. In the struggle to attract viewers weary of complicated season-long story lines (ahem, Lost), it’s the program of choice: keep up with the story or not, it’s compelling either way.
None of this would be possible without the perfectly-controlled and commanding Julianna Marguiles, who plays the forever-conflicted Alicia Florrick, spouse of a scandalized public figure (in the vein of Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford) who returns to work as a lawyer. She arguably has less dialogue than some of the supporting characters — she doesn’t need it, she conveys Alicia’s constantly turning mind with just a peer of her eyes. Her husband Peter (Chris Noth) is fresh out of jail and back on the campaign circuit for district attorney, reopening and creating wounds of their already rocky marriage.
Work is getting trickier too: The firm where Alicia works has just merged with another from D.C., and the motives of her new boss (played by SLEEPER CELL’s Michael Ealy) already smell fishy. Her other boss, Will (Josh Charles), whom Alicia began to rekindle an old college lust with during her husband’s time away, ended last season with a pleading phone conversation as Alicia is being called to the podium to stand next to her husband. She’s always so torn: which man to choose, how to explain their family’s public upheaval to her kids, the best way to proceed in a precarious case, whether to screw over a colleague to get ahead — there’s a grace to all of it, never inciting our impatience.
Season 2 gets us back into the courtroom, where THE GOOD WIFE doesn’t falter: yes, they’re easy (poppable, remember?), but they’re executed with classic LAW & ORDER-like precision and tension — the cast just sparks during trial, which the show presents as this realm of heightened-reality where the stakes seem convincingly dire. More of the enigmatic in-house investigator Kalinda (Emmy winner Archie Panjabi) as well, who now has a rival (and love interest?) in FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS’ Scott Porter as a fellow investigator brought in with the new firm. Where it truly shines in its weekly cases is the rolodex of actors they cast as judges (Denis O’Hare, Russell Edgington himself, has made two great appearances thus far), who bring an element of uncertainty to each with their own idiosyncrasies, and nicely reflects how the nature of a case can be tempered by the judge’s mood.
This season is setting itself up to be even more political, or as it reads better in TV, topical. This can be as precarious as a period show: the temptation to be on-the-nose is almost too seductive to turn down, THE GOOD WIFE included in the guilty party (there is something creepy to Alan Cumming saying “tweet”), but it cheekily plays up the liberal and feminist ideologies of firm partner Diane (the transformative, always-game Christine Baranski) with a wink.
In the end though, it’s always Julianna Marguiles. She is THE GOOD WIFE, her performance of such a caliber that it’d be impossible to execute as well as it is without her. The show reliably rises to meet her bravura performance, making only rare missteps in its otherwise solid progression as a buzzed-about ratings hit. Grade: A-
THE GOOD WIFE returns Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 10PM (EST) on CBS (Global in Canada)
Aleks Chan is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. He has seen every episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER four times, has once referred to his DVR as his “best friend,” and has only seen the pilot episode of THE SOPRANOS — and has no intention to apologize for it. He lives in Austin, Texas. His name is pronounced like Alex. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter (@alekstvaddict), or his own blog, Screen Reader.