Tuesday, February 9, 2010

‘The Good Wife’ – Who said engineering complex emotions in TV makes for boring shows?

Yes, we know the “platitude” of ‘sex sells’. In fact, most people know that. It doesn’t take a lot of insight to know that most programming on TV is cleverly disguised sex, skin and violence. They are all very entertaining; enthralling the audiences with stories of others. Throw in a bit sex to spice up the mood, tragedy to unite audiences in empathy and a wedding to celebrate the blessing of love. You have a slice of life animated with great aesthetic finesse to meet TRP ratings. However, these formulaic renderings do not take away from the cleverness of the show or its writers. Some of them ARE good.

But, it becomes very hard not to judge these clever disguises when a show like ‘The Good Wife’ comes along. ‘The Good Wife’ takes entertainment to the ranks of art with its quiet, enigmatic characters and brilliant actors. The storylines themselves are simple. Legal drama interspersed with the personal drama of its protagonist Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). The genius lies in writing of the characters and Julianna’s portrayal of the forceful yet fragile Alicia.

Creators Michelle and Robert King’s “The Good Wife” comes in the wake of high profile sex scandals of powerful politicians, famously Bill Clinton and more recently Eliot Spitzer. Gratefully, we are spared more psychoanalysis of the red-faced politician and are taken to the privations of the humiliated wife. The wife here is no wilting lily but the very intelligent, strong and conflicted Alicia Florrick. When her husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) is forced to resign as State’s Attorney and sent to prison on charges of abuse of office and corruption, Alicia is left alone to front and support her family. Six months into the scandal, she has already found a place as a junior litigator in a prestigious law firm.

It's all been done before - legal drama, the underdog vs. the powerful, the victimised vs. the system etc. In those circumstances, Alicia’s character could have wilted under yet another “Superman” complex, had it not been for the impossibility of categorizing her. Who is Alicia Florrick? Is she the exacting, ruthlessly no-nonsense witness who can cut down the cross-examining lawyer to pieces in defense of her husband? Is she is the wronged wife? Is she the lawyer who is sensitive and thoughtful towards her clients? Is she the loving, practical mother who can be impervious to emotional blackmail? It’s the mark of very good writing when a fictional character cannot be assigned to adjectives.

But the credit of making it all real goes to Julianna Margulies, who effortlessly brings Alicia to life with measured talk, gentle lifts of her perfectly shaped brows and hard glints in her much suffered eyes. When asked to describe her character, Julianna says Alicia is a “cerebral” person, who thinks before she acts or talks. She adds, “I think she realises it is sink or swim and she has to take care of her children and put a roof over their heads. That's what matters and she's been at the worst, now it can only go up. I think it gives her a lot of strength that in a lot of ways she doesn't care what people think anymore because she already knows they think the worst.”

As the show progresses (it's a 23 episode season), we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Alicia in the finale and second season. On the personal front, there is the long legal battle of her husband who appears to have been set up. Will the courts release Peter out on bail? Is Alicia ready to have Peter back? Though she is very clear about the rules – stay in the maid’s room and no more cheating.

Professionally, she is already making a name for being a very clear headed, tough lawyer who will even to take on a judge to protect the right. She continues to surprise her peers and adversaries with her intelligence. Her hard nosed ethical stands have already pissed off some powerful people. That she will be successful is given. But how will she evolve? Will loyalty to her current employers trump her discomfort with the grey zones of her law firm? Or will she head off to start her own practice?

It’s gratifying to see more powerful and older women like Alicia or Anna Torv’s Olivia Dunham in television today, where the protagonist is not defined by her sexuality or wardrobe. In times of neurotic, frazzled and disillusioned women, comes Alicia Florrick who has won the admiration of audiences for her grace and stoicism even in the face of acute humiliation and defeat. And for that she has already won the battle.

No comments:

Post a Comment