The best TV is evolving, becoming more sophisticated, especially when comparing today’s shows against those from decades past. Imagine a science fictional time signal sending The Sopranos, Big Love or Deadwood back in 1969, and what a contrast those shows would make to viewers of The Brady Bunch and Marcus Welby, M.D. Most of my Netflix discs are modern TV shows – which I prefer over movies.
I see 2-3 movies at month at the theater, but for my meat and potatoes entertainment, I really enjoy contemporary TV. I think I like the length and pace of TV seasons over two hour movies, they’re closer to the length of novels. But getting involved with a new network show is chancy, because we never know when tuning in each week if our new friends have been murdered by bean counters.
TV producers have a tremendous challenge creating new TV series because they compete with the best shows of TV history, either with shows a few channels over in syndication or collected on DVDs. Its far safer for a viewer to go steady with an old show then risk their heart with a new one. I hate getting emotionally attached to a new characters that could just disappear on me.
One way producers fight competition with past shows is to create new shows with actors from older hit shows. So we see old faces like Julianna Margulies from ER, Chris Noth from Law & Order and Sex in the City, Josh Charles from Sports Night and Christine Baranski from Cybil, making it easier to try The Good Wife.
However, for The Good Wife (2009), success rests on the shoulders of Julianna Margulies which causes me to wonder how far TV has come since ER (1994), a very groundbreaking show. Poor Julianna opens in each series as a tragic figure – an attempted suicide in ER and as Alicia Florrick, the wife of a corrupt sex-sandaled imprisoned politician, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), in this new CBS show on Tuesday nights. ER went on to become one of the greatest TV series of all time, but I doubt The Good Wife will see season two unless it evolves very fast, but then I betting against the rave reviewers.
I’m quite sure CBS hopes to be as successful with its new show as NBC was with ER, but I have my doubts. ER succeeded because it followed an ensemble cast of fascinating diverse characters, whereas The Good Wife relies heavily on the title character. Most of the shows that wowed me in recent years have been ones featuring gangs of great characters, like Big Love, Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men, Lost, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Heroes, Law & Order and so on – or even shows I don’t like but others do, like CSI, Gray’s Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters and Desperate Housewives.
The most compelling single character driven show I like is Dexter. Even shows like Dexter, that are dominated by a central figure, have good surrounding characters, and it’s too early with only two episodes of The Good Wife, to know if the lesser characters will bloom – but remember the pilot to ER and how riveting it was from scene one. Right now the gripping aspect of The Good Wife is Julianna Margulies, and what drives me to watch is how she will play out the hand dealt to her by her scandalous husband. It’s not a good sign that in two episodes I’ve yet to see much depth to her character other than common clichés. The writers are spending too much character time on the legal drama, and those court room stories feel like very watered down Law & Order. Everything is glitzy about this show, the set, cinematography, costumes, the beauty of all the cast, but I worry about such slickness.
The reason why I gave up on Gray’s Anatomy is it wasn’t a very good show about medicine, and the soap opera relationships just got too silly. If The Good Wife is going to be a mediocre show about lawyers, it really needs to be a fantastic show about relationships. It has the potential to do that.
What piqued my interest the most so far, are her two kids and how they are reacting to daddy being in prison with their lives shattered by lurid TV clips. The son Zach Florrick, played by Graham Philips, intercepts photos intended for Alicia. Viewers are shown a scene where Alicia, the good wife, attacks her husband’s prosecutor for showing sex films on TV to make him feel guilty for hurting her and her children. The prosecutor defends his actions by claiming he held back evidence to stay within good taste. We viewers assume the photos Zach sees are some of what was held back, including photos of their dad doing drugs. But Zach believes the photos are Photoshop fakes.
Now here is the crucial point on whether or not I’m going to like or dislike this show. I want this story to be emotionally honest and realistic. The setup is good, how a corrupt man hurts his family. I don’t want a razzamatazz conspiracy plot to complicate an essentially genuine emotional landscape. We have the lives of a good wife, her two children and Peter’s mother hijacked by the bad husband, father and son. I know the husband isn’t going to be all bad, but I don’t want pulp fiction narrative stringing me along episode by episode trying to trick me into caring about him because he was framed.
If Peter Florrick isn’t like every other politician caught with a three thousand dollar an hour hooker, then it undermines the premise of the good wife – we see Peter Florricks in the news all the time, the story everyone wants to explore is why their wives stand beside them during the press conferences when they confess. Unfortunately, The Good Wife’s writers will only be able to string that story line along for maybe one season if they are lucky. I expect Peter to get out of jail and be reunited with his family, and thus the title of the show can be carried into new realms of good wife-ness when Peter continues to explore new ways of hurting his family.
Now here’s the six-four thousand dollar question: Should I watch The Good Wife now? I could wait until it succeeds and finishes its first season, gets a guarantee on having a second season and rent the first season on DVD. Because of the endless TV season of DVD shows, why watch any new show? Well, if everyone did that networks would stop producing new shows. What the networks need for their new shows are fans willing to date the series and commit. Any show getting such fan support will have time to shake out the kinks and beef up the story lines so fans will fall in love with attractive, complex characters.
I’m doing my part by trying The Good Wife, FlashForward, Cougar Town and Modern Family. All have potential but each are very weak at grabbing my attention. Compared to HBO and Showtime favorites, like Big Love and Dexter, that hooked me completely with their first episodes, these new shows can’t even be called mildly narcotic. To be be frank, I’m getting very close to giving up on network TV completely, and just live off DVD TV from Netflix. But I worry, what if everyone felt that way? This would be a whole new level of time-shifting, much different from VCRs and DVRs.
JWH – 10/3/9