Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.
Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)
(Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c starting this fall; TRT: 46:58)
The network's description: "THE GOOD WIFE is a drama starring Emmy Award winner Julianna Margulies as a wife and mother who must assume full responsibility for her family and re-enter the workforce after her husband's very public sex and political corruption scandal lands him in jail. Pushing aside the betrayal and crushing public humiliation caused by her husband Peter (Chris Noth), Alicia Florrick (Margulies) starts over by pursuing her original career as a defense attorney. As a junior associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm, she joins her longtime friend, former law school classmate and firm partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles), who is interested to see how Alicia will perform after 13 years out of the courtroom. Alicia is grateful the firm's top litigator, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), offers to mentor her but discovers the offer has conditions and realizes she's going to need to succeed on her own merit. Alicia's main competition among the firm's 20-something new recruits is Cary (Matt Czuchry), a recent Harvard grad who is affable on the surface, but will use any means to ensure that he, not Alicia, secures the one full-time associate position that's available. Fortunately, Alicia finds an ally in Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the firm's tough in-house investigator. Gaining confidence every day, Alicia transforms herself from embarrassed politician's scorned wife to resilient career woman, especially for the sake of providing a stable home for her children, 14-year-old Zach (Graham Phillips) and 13-year-old Grace (Makenzie Vega). For the first time in years, Alicia trades in her identity as the "good wife" and takes charge of her own destiny. Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Robert King, Michelle King, Dee Johnson and David Zucker are the executive producers for CBS Television Studios."
What did they leave out? Gillian Jacobs, who was set to recur as Alicia and Cary's assistant, is being replaced due to her first-position commitment to NBC's "Community."
The plot in a nutshell: In a scene far too familiar in today's news cycle, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) stands supportively next to her husband Peter (Chris Noth) as he resigns as State's Attorney of Cook County in disgrace. Cut to six months later as Alicia finds herself in a courtroom for the first time in 13 years. You see Alicia gave up her legal career to take care of her family - including 14-year-old Zach (Graham Phillips) and 13-year-old Grace (Makenzie Vega) - and support Peter's career. Now with Peter in jail for solicitation and using public funds to support his escapades, it's up to Alicia to be the breadwinner. Thankfully her old law school chum Will (Josh Charles) has offered her a spot at his firm. There she's tasked with a pro bono case deemed not worth the senior partners' time - defending a young mother accused of killing her ex-husband in a fake carjacking. The original trial ended with the jury deadlocked however as Alicia quickly finds out it was only to get out of having to sway one particularly inflexible juror. In other words, she's dead in the water unless she finds a new defense.
Aiding Alicia in her quest are the firm's in-house investigator Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), an old associate of Peter's who's still bitter about being fired by him, and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), the firm's top litigator who offers to be her mentor - provided she doesn't make her look bad. Yes, the deck is stacked against Alicia from the start. Even worse, a fellow associate named Cary (Matt Czuchry) lets it slip they're actually only probationary hires - only one of them will actually get the associate job and everyone, including their shared assistant (Gillian Jacobs), has placed their bets on him. Alicia nevertheless puts her nose to the grindstone and starts to get in front of the case - the security guard who punched a big hole in the woman's story is exposed as a liar and the police mistakenly buried what turns out to be vital evidence. Meanwhile on the homefront, the kids are starting to make their respective peaces with what's happened while Peter's mother (Mary Beth Peil) continues to pressure her to forgive her son. As for Peter himself, it seems an appeals court may overturn his case, potentially sending him home much sooner than anticipated. In the meantime, he's more than willing to cough up dirt on his office to help Alicia - even if it sickens her to take it. Her "good wife" days behind her, Alicia must now find her own path.
What works: Kudos to Margulies, director Charles McDougall and the Kings for taking what initially sounds like a bad Lifetime movie-of-the-week premise and turning it into something rich and engaging. Instead of making excuses for Alicia to stick by him or praising her for damning him, we instead experience her mixed emotions firsthand. The opening press conference for instance is framed from Alicia's point of view where she spots a stray thread on his jacket. Her impulse is to brush it away but here she is being humiliated by the man she is trying to help in front of a sea of reporters - and yet she still can't fight the impulse. It's a sequence that lasts just a few seconds but it's one of many that help us get into Alicia's head without being showy or melodramatic about it.
Margulies expertly inhabits these moments - whether it be explaining to her client the need to take care of yourself even when all feels lost or the gut punch of judging eyes around every corner - while McDougall deftly stages them. Furthermore Alicia isn't presented as Erin Brockovich or some other kind of wunderkind - she simply does the work others think they're too smart for or above doing. The supporting cast likewise brings quite a bit to the table - from Panjabi's amusingly punchy Kalinda to Czuchry's nice but somehow still smarmy Cary. Hell even the guest cast, including the always awesome David Paymer as a fastidious judge and Titus Welliver as the new State's Attorney, do their part to punctuate our tale. And if that wasn't enough, it's also surprisingly funny in parts - whether it be Kalinda's unapologetic tactics or the wry smiles that can only come from knocking the opposition down a few pegs.
What doesn't: I can't think of anything substantive.
The bottom line: This is most definitely a year of surprises on the drama front as "The Good Wife" might just be the best new hour and I sure didn't see it coming.