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The Good Wife is an old-fashioned family drama

February 9, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
I've noticed that certain critics tend to turn their noses up at the courtroom and police dramas on CBS, but I also notice that I keep coming back to them when I feel like watching TV.

They're the TV version of macaroni and cheese or tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich: comfort food, in other words; solid, but not flashy; old-fashioned and unapologetically celebratory of tradition.

Recent trends on "The Good Wife" are a fairly good example of the instincts of a CBS show producer. At one level the show is about the inner workings of a more than a little twisted Chicago political campaign and a law firm scrambling to hang onto its clientele and using occasionally questionable methods to do it. At another level it's an old-fashioned family drama, all about relationships between Alicia Florick (Juliana Margulies), the Good Wife of the title, her husband Peter (Chris Noth), a disgraced politician making a comeback, and their teenage children.

Last week's episode featured some personal nastiness, as Peter's campaign opponent Wendy was accused of not being black enough because she has a white husband. This slur made Wendy's daughter cry, Wendy told Good Wife Alicia, and she wanted Alicia to personally put a stop to it or she would go after Alicia's children. Wendy's campaign had dug up some dirt on Alicia's son, Zach, suggesting that his girlfriend had recently had an abortion. Alicia told Peter's campaign manager to make it go away and the campaign manager discovered that Zach wasn't responsible for the pregnancy or the abortion. Alicia breathed a sigh of relief, since the abortion story would have made Peter look bad either way and she didn't want to think Zach had lied to her. But that probably isn't the last we've heard of Wendy, since there's still more dirt to be dug up on Alicia's 14-year-old daughter Grace.

In this week's episode, Peter consulted an old prison buddy about making his campaign more hip and relevant to young people and especially to black voters. Meanwhile, Alicia fought a stealth attack by a rival lawyer (Michael J. Fox) who is trying to steal clients from her in an upcoming class action suit.

The political machinations are fun, but what gives the story its heart is Alicia. Peter was sent to prison on trumped up corruption charges after first humiliating Alicia by cheating on her with a string of hookers. A video of Peter's transgressions is all over the Internet. Then Peter was freed. The main drama has been over whether Alicia would stay with Peter and remain "The Good Wife" or kick him to the curb and concentrate on her career and a new romance.

I'm rooting for Alicia to forgive Peter, which probably makes me a conventional CBS viewer. I think people with kids ought to try their best to avoid divorce.

But it's not like Alicia doesn't have other options and that's where it gets REALLY interesting. Peter's prison term forced Alicia to return to work as a lawyer, after she'd spent years as a stay at home mom. Her boss is her old law school buddy, Will, who still has feelings for her. Will told her last season in a cell phone message, which was intercepted by Peter's campaign manager, who didn't want Alicia to break up with Peter. A political campaign sort of needs a "Good Wife."

So, moving into the Valentine's Day Week episode, Will thinks Alicia rejected him, Alicia thinks Will has moved on to someone else and never really cared, and the campaign manager is still walking around looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. In last week's episode, Alicia finally let Peter return to the marital bed, after he'd spent most of the last year banished to the guest room. But Will and Alicia have to find out sometime what the campaign manager did. Maybe it's next week.

Dun, dun, dun.

"The Good Wife" airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on CBS.


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