The Good Wife: Season 5

goodwifeReviewing The Good Wife is surprisingly hard. The show has been so consistently wonderful from its very first episode that it’s a real struggle to find anything new to say 112 episodes later. I’ve already spent many paragraphs gushing about the cast, the guest stars, the stories, the characters, the humour, the issues and even the clothes that I really don’t have much more to say. Still, that’s never stopped me blathering before.

One of the few changes in season 4 was that the writers seem to have at least made some effort to tone down Kalinda’s crazy story lines. For the most part she was ‘just’ a supporting character to the other storylines and by moving her into the background a bit, she actually shone. Here (as is so often the case) less is more. People are generally a lot more subtle than television writers like them to be, but if you can write and act accordingly (which the Good Wife writers and Archie Panjabi most certainly can) that’s where all the power is.

Kalinda’s one thread of continued insanity was tied into the one plot this season that really didn’t work – Damian Boyle the mob lawyer. The story never quite felt as committed as it needed to be, and was a waste of Jason O’Mara who can do better than that terrible accent and over the top caricature. Again, it’s a character that was made too dramatically large. Subtlety and misdirection are far more interesting. The same problem befell Melissa George’s character who seemed just slightly out of synch with the world around.

One element of the season that I really struggled with was Will’s streak of viciousness and ambition that drove the hiring of Damian and several other dubious acts. I trust the writers enough however to realise that my dislike of those storylines is more about me wanting the character to be unrealistically perfect, that I’m falling for his charms and refusing to see his flaws. I want characters I like to be right and pure, it’s one thing when they make mistakes, but when they deliberately take action to satisfy darker motives like greed, jealousy and ambition, that’s harder to accept and it’s very easy to blame the writers and say they’re making the characters do things that they wouldn’t do.

But that’s not reality and this show is so good, that they have characters that, like real people, are basically good but have threads in them that are less admirable. The audience and characters close to her know that Alicia herself is far from the saint that those further away perceive her to be. She too is proud and ambitious, using her intelligence and charm to manipulate those around her, and (even worse) being somewhat smug about that power. Just as some of those traits start to overwhelm the character however her plotting and manipulation are completely derailed by events that are entirely out of her influence.

Much as I’d love to write a review without having to mention Will’s death, as much as I want it to have not been true, it would do a disservice to not mention it. Like some of the most powerful character deaths in television (Buffy’s mother, Leo on the West Wing, Kate on NCIS) it came like death does in reality, completely out of the blue. Will’s story wasn’t finished but suddenly he’s gone and all of the plans and dreams of those left behind slam into a brick wall. The way that each character deals with that and regroups is entirely unique and once again a masterclass by writers and cast alike.

There isn’t a single weak link in this cast and I would cheerfully give every one of them an award if it were within my power. Everyone down to the briefest guest star or the most background recurring character is superb. Alan Cumming as Eli Gold quietly (or sometimes loudly) plays the master manipulator and often comic relief, but he never lets you forget that this man is fundamentally very lonely, solving everyone else’s problems with no one asking how he is. His reaction to Will’s death, pushing aside his own shock and grief to help Alicia and Peter was heartbreaking. Matt Czuchry as Cary is fighting to be Will to Alicia’s Diane, (or is it the other way around), he’s got everything he wanted – his name on the letter head, Kalinda in his bed, and yet he still doesn’t seem to have anyone’s respect (Canning’s failure to even remember his name…). Dallas Roberts as Alicia’s brother, the only one who really treats her like she’s a human being with feelings and fears. None of these characters or actors are written like they’re supporting characters, it just happens that most of their lives happen off screen make the cut.

I adore this show. It’s hands down the best thing on television at the moment. Breaking Bad is likely to win all the awards, but remember, that will be awarded for just 8 episodes. Good Wife produces 22 episodes of complete perfection every single year.

The Good Wife: Season 4

goodwifeFor my broad feelings on The Good Wife you really can just re-read my review of season 3. It does a pretty good job of expressing just how and why I adore this show so much. The cast, the writing, the stories, the humour, the clothes… they’re all still there for season 4. And sometimes they’re even better!

For example, just when you think the guest stars can’t get any better, not only do my old favourites return (Martha Plimpton, Mathew Perry, Michael J. Fox) but they’re added to with Nathan Lane, T.R. Knight, Kristin Chenoweth, Carrie Preston, Maura Tierney, Amanda Peet and possibly the most exquisite piece of casting ever – Stockard Channing as Alicia’s mother! Of all the moments in the series that I adore, the scenes with Alicia and her brother (Dallas Roberts, slightly jarring to watch alongside his appearance on The Walking Dead) have always been my favourites, and adding the former First Lady of The West Wing to it made me literally squeal out loud with happiness.

While I can say that the positives of the show from the third season still continue, sadly I can say the same about its flaws. Yet again, Kalinda’s storyline just didn’t mesh with the rest of the series, setting off into unsettled and peculiar territory. I’m still convinced there’s a great character there, despite the ridiculous inconsistency of her story-lines. Being mysterious is one thing, but too often the writers send her off into craziness and then have to drag her back into the fold. Hopefully they’ll leave her history and poor relationship choices alone and focus on the far more interesting aspects like her friendships with Alicia and Will and her importance to the firm.

Which segues us neatly into the question of how many firms will there be in season 5? Finally Cary has come into his own with his confidence and competence finally being in alignment. The comparisons of him and Alicia with Will and Diane continue to build and season 5 will give them an exciting new context to work in, one that I’m not sure anyone is ready for. Meanwhile Will and Diane came together to fight through their redundancy, but lost a lot in the process and season 5 will be just as hard for them.

Like The West Wing, this is a show that I’m never embarrassed to be a fan girl about. Even though I can (and will) explain at length why I love shows like Supernatural, or Firefly I sometimes feel a little apologetic, like the person I’m talking to may look down on me a bit. But The Good Wife is just pure, intelligent, entertaining excellence for grown-ups. I’m practically in mourning now that I have to go months with no new episodes and am sorely tempted to re-watch from the beginning again, just to tide me over.

Scandal: Season 1

scandalOlivia Pope is a fixer, she leads a small team of misfits working in Washington DC and if you’ve got a problem, or done something you shouldn’t have, she’s the person you go to even if you’re the President of the United States. She is phenomenally smart, she knows absolutely everything and everyone and she will stop at absolutely nothing for her clients. Fortunately for the viewers she’s also actually a real person with feelings and emotions and is not above making a few mistakes of her own. Olivia Pope is a fantastic character and beautifully played by Kerry Washington.

The other characters fall into the shadows a little in comparison. Pope’s team never really get much beyond a sentence character description each. Harrison is a lawyer/salesman and talks very very fast, Abby is a highly strung investigator who is blatantly in love with the womanising and frankly rather dodgy Stephen, Quinn is the naive, neurotic new girl and Huck is the quiet tech guy who retired from doing very bad things for the CIA. They’ve all got potential, but they never got much of a chance to develop depth. The political characters are a lot stronger, with the President, his Chief of Staff and First Lady all having considerably more layers to them, most of them not very pleasant. Oh and there’s Joshua Malina in there as a district attorney, it really doesn’t matter about his character, because he’s Josh Malina and he’s always great.

The big problem the first season has is that it’s only 7 episodes long; that’s not a season, it’s an introduction. But rather than take any time to establish the characters and their day lives, it jumps straight into a massive, potentially world changing plot. That’s a real difficulty here, because there’s never really a chance to understand what normal is before we’re thrown into something exceptional, meaning it’s difficult to fully appreciate the stress and impact. I thought the series was going to be about the consultancy business and fall into a “client of the week” pattern, with a long term arc around the more major political stories. I’m still not really sure whether I was wrong, or whether the “client of the week” all just got cut when 15 episodes got hacked off the season.

Despite the questionable pacing, the show is good fun to watch with the snappy dialogue and knowing tones that I love in Grey’s Anatomy, and the smart appreciation for complex situations that makes The Good Wife so interesting. However I think the season (and possibly the whole series) is undermined by rushing all the establishing stuff which left me feeling a bit like I was watching the edited highlights. Hopefully season 2, with a full 22 episodes will take a bit more time to allow the characters and scenario to establish properly before inevitably turning it all upside down again.

The Good Wife: Season 3

There isn’t much on network television these days that I would label as ‘superb’, that praise tends to be with-held for cable shows and frankly not very often even then. Shows on network channels in the US are always desperate to maximise the number of people watching, particularly in key demographics and for some reason that doesn’t generally seem to correlate with what I for one consider high quality. The Good Wife was ranked 26th in the ratings this year, while above it were shows like NCIS, NCIS LA, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, CSI and Castle. There’s nothing wrong with those shows, I watch and enjoy them all (well, maybe not so much NCIS but that’s another story) but fundamentally they play for entertainment not quality. The Good Wife really is in a different league, and I’m genuinely not sure whether to be depressed that quality only ranks at 26th, or pleased it is as high as that at all.

The Good Wife has got all the right ingredients, a talented and charismatic cast, interesting characters with a network of complex relationships and a good balance between gradually evolving long term story arcs and well thought out episodic plots. When I write it out like that it doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it’s amazing how few shows actually get it right.

The last point in particular is one that procedurals struggle with, too often the cases of the week (be they medical, criminal or legal) are instantly forgettable, or the arc storylines are unevenly developed with mad rushes of character issues generally prompted by unlikely disasters to engineer cliffhangers. The Good Wife manages to inter-weave the plots seamlessly, the way that normal people’s lives work combining the day job with big life choices.

The best thing for me however with this show is the cast. Everyone on the show from the regulars to the astonishing guest stars are veteran performers and their experience shines through. They have a lightness of touch that makes every scene and every line a joy, simple looks between characters or lines of dialogue are delivered so beautifully that they have me reaching for the remote to re-wind. Just in the last episode simple things like Will and Alicia leaning against the wall of the lift (echoing the end of the previous season), or Will’s response to bad news (“oops”) had me grinning because they were just so understated and well done.

I did have some criticisms of the second season, particularly the Kalinda storyline which just seemed a bit daft. Thankfully that was toned down a lot this season and she went back to being a mysterious and complex character, instead of a nut case. There were a few plot developments that maybe stretched credulity, but I mostly gave them a pass as it’s possible that lawyers and politicians (and even worse – the murky waters of the state’s attorney office that combines both) really are that mean and vicious. On the plus side those moments did bring in some of the best guest stars including Matthew Perry, Michael J. Fox and Martha Plimpton, three hugely likeable actors playing epically unpleasant characters. Jackie, the \Good Wife’s Mother-in-Law meanwhile is becoming a slightly pantomime character, she makes her son seem like a pushover compared to her ambitions.

I love this show. It’s funny – the characters may be big important lawyers, but they still have fun and stumble through normal problems like Diane’s awkward romantic endeavours, Eli dealing with a headstrong daughter or Will being harassed by his sisters. The moments of friendship are beautiful – Will and Diane dancing, Kalinda and Alicia gradually working their way back to sharing tequila and feel so grounded and well earned. I enjoy watching the show, I find the storylines interesting and challenging and genuinely care about the characters for all their flaws. I realise this review is a bit on the gushy side, but really amongst so much mediocre ‘okay-ness’ out there, The Good Wife is an absolute gem.

The Good Wife: Season 2

I have this idea that there’s a big whiteboard in the writers room of The Good Wife. For the first season it had the word ‘Balance’ at the top followed by a list of all the different fragile balances that were being maintained by the characters – Alicia’s balance between what her family needs and what she wants, Will’s balance between his playfulness and his pride, Carey and Alicia’s balance between sibling like support and professional competition. The writers would look at that board and every plot, every relationship, every moment came from there. The beauty of season 1 was that they managed to do that so subtly that you didn’t realise that it was being written, it all felt perfectly natural and consistent.

Then off the back of their spectacularly successful first season they crossed out balance and wrote ‘Conflict’, then they took each of those balances and poked them, upsetting the equilibriums and pushing the characters and their relationships to breaking point. But the subtlety of season 1 was nowhere to be found, the poking was blatant and artificial, leaving me as a viewer feeling manipulated and unhappily reminded that the writers exist and this is a television show.

Take Kalinda. In season 1 she was walking an interesting line between trying to cling to her privacy while forming an interesting bond with Alicia. This season her privacy was poked at relentlessly by a film-noir-esque cheesy rival until she had some sort of psychotic break and went completely mental. When it was eventually revealed that the big secret was that she slept with Peter, I greeted it with “didn’t we kind of know that already?”. It just seemed so utterly melodramatic and over the top that by the time the reveal was made, anything short of murder seemed disproportionate to the amount of fuss of covering it up.
The conflict between Will and Diane felt equally artificial, the beautiful balancing act from the first season casually thrown away in favour of childish rumour mongering. Likewise I didn’t care about any of Peter’s political manoeuvrings to become State’s Attorney, it all just ended up with me hating all politicians and wondering why anyone would want the job that badly when it seemed to be a miserable job.

That’s not to say the show is bad, it’s still miles better than most other stuff on television, and certainly in a different league from most of the other procedurals. The cases are still interesting and engaging on an emotional level, feeling like they’re about real people, a great contrast to the instantly forgettable and disposable plots other procedurals like CSI wheel out each week. I also continue to love the supporting characters like Eli Gold, it will be interesting to see him working alongside Alicia next season. I also hope to see more of Alicia’s brother, he brings out another side of Alicia, one that has fun and is silly and open.

This is still a great show, I think the writers just made a few miss-steps with the more drawn out plot elements, maybe scared that people would expect a second season to be bigger than the first. Hopefully when they come to look at their white board they’ll chose to head it up with something like ‘Rebalance’ and realise that when you’re THIS good, you really don’t have to try so hard.

Season 2 doesn’t even seem to be available for pre-order on dvd at time of writing, but Amazon has the first season (review) for a very respectable £12.99 (affiliate link)

Pilot Review: Law & Order: Los Angeles

Law and Order moves to LA. Don’t really know what more to say about it.

I’ve never really watched Law and Order, but even I felt a little stab of sorrow to hear that the original series was being cancelled after 20 years.I know there are numerous reasons to cancel a show and immediately replace it with a spin-off, but this time felt particularly vicious, because they took a living legend, shot it, and replaced it with something unremarkable and derivative.

As soon as they announced the name of the new spin-off I suspected it was gonna be bad. Obviously shows like being set in LA because most shows are filmed there so location shooting is a breeze. But it’s getting stupid, not only is Law and Order LA not the only series set in LA at the moment, it’s not even the only one with LA in the title! If you’re going to make the unique selling point of your show its location, at least make it an interesting and unfamiliar one.

LA is not just everywhere, it’s just not very interesting, and the pilot of L&O:LA highlighted everything that’s annoying about LA – it’s full of people craving fame, power and money. Maybe that’s the same everywhere, but LA seems to have more than its fair share of vacuous, talentless, overdressed, attention seeking twits and to be honest I have absolutely no desire to watch them either as victims, or as manipulative criminals.

Three days after watching the pilot I’ve completely forgotten all the characters. One of the detectives is bald with a questionable moustache, but I couldn’t tell you his name. I remember Alfred Molina was in it and I liked him, but I can’t actually remember who his character was beyond that he seemed to be a legal person. There were probably some female characters there, but the only ones I can remember were the victim and suspect neither of whom were particularly great examples of humanity.

The case of the week was okay, although it did seem to flip flop about a lot, bouncing off plot points as the finger of suspicion waggles around like one of those giant foam finger thingies. Personally I find the standard Law and Order chung-chungs really annoying and disconnecting, but I guess they’re traditional.

I dunno, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe if you’re watched more than the couple of dozen Law and Order episodes than I have, this series works better for you. The final season of Original flavour averaged 7.2 million, the new series premiered at 10.6 – so I guess the numbers are in their favour, and the series has been picked up for the season. But if they were trying to get me excited about Law and Order again, they should have moved somewhere other than LA, because it’s basically a massive turn-off for me.

Reviews: I didn’t find any on my usual sources, although I didn’t look very hard.

Links: Official website,, wikipedia.

Pilot Review: The Whole Truth

We follow both the prosecution and defence teams as they investigate crimes, try to undermine each other, and ultimately win or lose when the verdict comes in. Unfortunately the verdict was that no-one was watching, so it was cancelled.

The show is built around the double-act of Rob Morrow (Numbers, Northern Exposure) and Maura Tierney (ER), the laid-back defence attorney and the uptight prosecuting district attorney respectively. The laid back and uptight is all laid on a bit thick, he wears sneakers with his suits, she drinks coffee and has meetings in a gun range. Their characters apart are pretty unremarkable and dull, but together there was actually something interesting going on. The relationship had a good mix of respect and irritation, there’s a long history, and together they’re nowhere near as irritating as they are apart.

While the schedules are pretty crowded with legal dramas, this one actually had an interesting unique selling point to it beyond relocating to a new city (Law and Order: LA, I’m looking at you!). With both the prosecution and the defence teams being central characters, no matter whether the the verdict comes in guilty or not-guilty, one group wins and the other loses. But neither side are really the bad guys.
I would usually avoid spoilering a pilot, but as it’s already been cancelled I think I’ll make an exception as describing the plot highlights where the show sort of let itself down.

The case of the week is about a public school teacher, father of two and husband to a cancer fighting wife who is accused of raping and murdering a student, a good little religious ‘angel’ as the press dub her. As the case developed (at a slightly breakneck speed) I was coming down on the side of not-guilty, yeah the guy turned out to have made some dubious choices, but the evidence against him seemed pretty circumstantial and he was pretty convincing as a normal bloke that suddenly found all sorts of crap coming at him.

But then, somewhat suddenly a slightly more credible piece of evidence appeared and he was found guilty. Throughout the rest of the episode there was a nice back-and-forth as one side found a piece of evidence and the other discredited. But with the final piece, it felt that the defence team never really got a chance to respond.

But then, in a rather creepy final scene we find out that not only did the guy actually commit the murder, but that it wasn’t in a “heat of the moment” kind of way, rather a really creepy “keeping souvenirs” kinda way. It just felt too fast and convenient. (Also I’m fairly certain that in a case where there’s a key piece of evidence missing, the police would probably have turned the suspect’s house upside down. Just one of a number of dubiously convenient procedural oversights.)

This highlights a couple of issues. The losing side this time (and I’m guessing that the same side won’t always lose) lost because they were taken in by their client. So immediately they look dumber than the other side. The other problem is that at no point did we see the conversation where the defence lawyer said – “you need to tell me the truth, even if you did it, it’s my job to get you off anyway”. And of course that’s the problem, how can we have our ‘heroes’ defending real bad guys? Or on the flip side, our ‘heroes’ viciously going after victims of circumstance? I’m guessing there’ll be a bit of mileage in cases where the person is guilty in the eyes of the law, but innocent in the eyes of popular opinion. But I’m not sure this show will work if the ‘right’ side always wins.

Thanks to debuting with some pretty terrible ratings and going downhill from there, the show has been pulled from the air (although apparently they’ll finish making the half season of 13 episodes). I might actually be intrigued enough to try out a couple more episodes, but more from the academic interest of wondering how they’d handle the complex balancing act rather than any particular enjoyment of the show itself.

TV Squad: Despite being a drama about lawyers, ‘The Whole Truth’ doesn’t even begin to have the courage of its convictions. Every point is hammered home with a complete lack of subtlety; during the closing argument in the pilot, bits of previous scenes were replayed at crucial moments, in case the audience forgot what transpired several minutes ago. It’s always a good time when a television network assumes that you’re a half-wit.

CliqueClack: A few moments into The Whole Truth and I remembered that I never liked Maura Tierney or Rob Morrow… Maura is rather wooden, and seems incapable of emotion. Morrow does a great job of whining and standing around with his teeny mouth hanging open. Nothing good there.

Links: Official website, imdb,