So often quality TV is defined mostly by writing. But CBS's "The Good Wife" is both a well-written legal drama and a terrific showcase for actress Julianna Margulies, who elevates the already-good material with her perceptive, open performance.
Margulies stars as Alicia Florrick, wife of Illinois state's attorney Peter (Chris Noth, "Law & Order"), who, in the opening scene, resigns his post amid a hooker and ethics scandal. The opening scene replays the familiar sight of a wife standing by her disgraced husband as he apologizes and resigns his position in a hastily called press conference.
- When: 10 tonight on CBS.
- Starring: Julianna Margulies.
When this plays out in real life, viewers may feel for the wronged spouse, but in "The Good Wife" Margulies shows not only Alicia's pain but also her disorientation as life as she knew it gets ripped away. During the press conference, Alicia focuses on a piece of thread on her husband's suit, presumably in an effort to distract herself from her husband and the media horde.
Six months later, Alicia has become the family breadwinner while her husband plots his comeback from a prison cell. After 13 years of caring for her family, Alicia goes back to work for a corporate law firm, where she's treated as an object of pity and privilege.
She gets the job from a law school chum (Josh Charles, "SportsNight") and only after she begins work does she learn she's in competition for a permanent position with a young shark (Matt Czuchry, "Gilmore Girls") who gets put on an important-to-the-firm case while the firm's top litigator (Christine Baranski, "Cybill") tasks Alicia with pro bono work.
Her first case: defending a single-mother murder suspect with whom Alicia begins to identify.
At home, Alicia tries to keep her children in check, which is difficult when her daughter calls to ask if the rumors that dad's prostitutes were teenagers are true. Complicating matters, Alicia's cold mother-in-law (Mary Beth Peil, "Dawson's Creek") has decided to "help" with the children, but she mostly annoys Alicia's teen daughter.
But the show's most interesting emotional undercurrent is Alicia's relationship with her jailed husband. He's eager to get things "back to normal," oblivious to her pain. She's conflicted at every turn. Betrayed as a wife, Alicia looks stricken when listening to a voice mail from her husband that his defense team may have found a winning legal strategy.
The timely nature of "The Good Wife" -- coming off scandals that made former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and current South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford household names -- gives the show a zeitgeisty zing, but credit writers Michelle and Robert King and star Margulies with making this show the fall's best drama bet.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.