Saturday 14 December 2019

Last Night’s TV: The Good Wife

Diarmuid Doyle applauds Julianna Margulies’ role as a hurt and wounded wife in the US legal drama

The Good Wife is a drama series about infidelity, work, party politics, office politics, the law, the difficulty of forgiving people who have hurt you, ambition, parenthood, lust, love, bisexuality, the destructive power of the internet, secrets and lies. And that’s not even the half of it.

There is so much going on that by rights it should be a mess, an overloaded, overwrought soap opera for afternoon television addicts. Instead, it may well be the best programme on tv right now, a superbly-acted, brilliantly written refutation of the argument that if it’s not made by HBO, there must be something wrong with it.

RTE2 kicked off the second season last night with a double episode. Another two follow next Thursday. Unusually for one of the national broadcaster’s big American imports, it’s not being repeated within the week, which is a pity because if you’re not familiar with the show, the best strategy would be to tape season 2 from the start, buy season 1 on box set and go on a Good Wife binge between now and Christmas.

If you have been watching, you’ll know already how good it is. Last night’s opening episode picked up precisely where the previous series finished off, with Alicia Florick, the good wife of the title, unable to answer calls from her boss Will Gardner, an old college flame, with whom she had been rekindling previous passions.

Before she gets a chance to listen to a voice message in which he tells her he loves her, she is manhandled away from her phone by the shifty but strangely likeable Eli Gold, campaign manager for her husband Peter. (Eli listens to the message, and deletes it).

Peter spent much of the first series in prison for political corruption (he had also been exposed as a regular user of prostitutes), but is out now and is relaunching his political career. Alicia is needed to stand by her man.

In just a few minutes last night, therefore, the two big themes of the second series were introduced – Peter’s campaign to become state’s attorney, and Alicia’s divided loyalties. Those topics rise and fall in importance as the series continues, never crowding out the other storylines, which include an array of gripping courtroom dramas.

Last night, these featured a blogger accused of killing an associate and an army reservist who may or may not have killed his unfaithful wife.

Office politics, a major theme of the first series, continue in a different format in the new season as Alicia’s law firm takes on a new partner.

For those people who argue that the best acting today is being done on tv rather than the movies, The Good Wife is exhibit number 1. Julianna Margulies, who plays Alicia, is magnificent as a hurt, wounded wife, and a clever, determined lawyer. She does barely repressed passion better than almost anyone you’ve ever seen.

Josh Charles brings an attractive arrogance to his portrayal of Will. Matt Czuchry’s sneaky smirk in his role as Cary Agos, a former colleague of Alicia’s, has its replica in every workplace in the world.

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold is convincing as a behind the scenes manipulator of the political process. (In real life, as it’s often called, Cumming is best mates with Monica Lewinsky, a fact which would hardly be worth mentioning were it not for the Clintonesque nature of some of The Good Wife’s plotline).

Best of all, however, may be Archie Panjabi, the curious, bi-curious private investigator, who featured prominently in last night’s two episodes and becomes a key character as season 2 develops.

Watching those opening episodes again, you had to admire the understated and calm nature of the whole thing. Where other shows would opt for the grand gesture, the melodramatic shouting match, or for stating the obvious, The Good Wife is restrained and thoughtful.

Every word, every facial tic, every strained silence is important and adds to the sense of unfolding tension and drama. It’s a show to be listened to as well as watched. For those of us who saw it on More 4 earlier this year, it may be even better the second time around.

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