I know. “The smartest show on TV” is a pretty lofty title to bestow but it must be said that I didn’t take it the least bit lightly. By far, The Good Wife is currently the smartest show on CBS – not that they care. “Smart” tends to run havoc on Nielsen boxes throughout the country so networks are often wise to steer clear. Hawaii Five-O and Mike & Molly are certainly fun but also don’t ask much mentally of you or even their protagonists. CSI(s), NCIS(es) and Criminal Minds(es) pretend to think on occasion but that’s seven shows all thinking as one, like seven hands all fiddling a Rubik’s cube but only aiming for reds on one side. And the comedies, Big Bang Theory in particular, show us each week how dumb smart needs to get in order to have people tuning in.
The Good Wife seems to stand out from the pack in that on its surface it’s a legal drama that’s ostensibly ignorant to the fact that we don’t watch them anymore. Remember when Ally McBeal and The Practice had a crossover episode? (Remember Night Court!?) Probably not. That was a long time ago, in a different television landscape where lawyers with their fast talk and book smarts and suits as sharp as their cynicism ruled the air. Now all we have is a wide-eyed Kathy Bates in Harry’s Law dumbing down legalese for regular folk, thoroughly playing the “I’m not that sort of lawyer” card.
The Good Wife is chock-full of that sort of lawyer, those sort of people – the smarty-pants. Alicia Florrick, played convincingly by a beautiful Julianna Margulies, is a smarty-pants junior litigator with a complicated personal life. What makes the series itself smart is how she can navigate a drama like this without a punchline; there’s no catch. The writers treat every character like an adult and in doing so treat the viewers like adults. The show uses its legal cases and scandals (like Alicia’s husband political career) to ask the viewer if they’ve not only read the paper recently (like Law & Order is known to do) but if they understand the news. The repercussions of a politician committing adultery, for example, take time to unravel and the writers have adeptly opened a window into the lives of those involved.
Chris Noth does a great job playing (Big playing) Peter Florrick, a smart-pants State’s Attorney who has an entertainingly strong grasp of both law and politics and contributes largely to the true-to-life mess of a romance between him and Alicia. Josh Charles, as Will Gardner, rounds off the love triangle that’s made the show irresistible recently. In fact, every one’s just great. Michael J. Fox and Anika Noni Rose even stop by now and then to make sure. This is truly the show that you deserve as a grownup. There are certainly other shows out there that are rich with genius (Community may come to mind) or try really hard to come off as thought-provoking (surely Kelsey Grammer’s new hustle, Boss) but I don’t think any show on television today thinks you’re actually smart and treats you as such as you watch. Watch it. The Good Wife comes back this Sunday, January 8.