May 9, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “The Good Wife”


Will THE GOOD WIFE be remembered as the last great broadcast network drama?  It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems like a good bet.  Other shows will make the attempt, of course:  ABC’s American Crime, which may or may not return for a 3rd season, has been filled with ambition, even if its reach so far has exceeded its grasp, and from time to time a network boss will decide, for reasons of relationships or principle or sheer ego, to play the quality card.  Still, in the current landscape of television, the odds of creator/showrunners having the opportunity, let alone the ability, that Robert and Michelle King had to turn out over 150 hours of sophisticated, witty, gutsy, often dazzling work despite challenges of fatigue, network standards, and tight restrictions on running time, content and scope, built around a character as complex and uncompromised as Julianna Margulies’s Alicia Florrick … it’s a longshot.

Nobody creates 150 hours of uninterrupted brilliance, and The Good Wife always had its bumps.  There was that Kalinda thing, and then that other Kalinda thing.  There was Jason O’Mara, whose character never made any sense, and Matthew Goode, who hung around for a season or two before everyone acknowledged that the show had no use for him.  Plotlines and guest stars came and went abruptly, driven by scheduling issues and creative changes in mid-stream. Sometimes the tone veered from humorous to silly, and sometimes things simply bogged down as the 22-episode season went on and on.  Nevertheless, on a week to week basis, The Good Wife was as strong as any show on any form of television.

This 7th and final season was hindered by the fact that the Kings didn’t know until very late in the game that it would actually be the series finale–they had decided to step down, but for quite a while CBS entertained the notion of promoting one of the senior writer/producers to take over as showrunner for Season 8.  (The series might have functioned well enough that way, but it’s better for everyone that the Kings got to carry the show through to their own ending.)  That probably contributed to the plotting feeling rather tentative much of the way, unable to build toward a certain finale.  Also, the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Alicia’s investigator Jason Crouse was so on the nose that the many episodes of waiting for them to hit the sheets felt less like “will they or won’t they?” than “will they for god’s sake get it over with?”  The Kings are big fans of symmetry (the episode titles were all a single word in Season 1, then 2 words in Season 2, and so on, only to decline from 4 to 3 in Season 5 and then gradually back to one word this year), but the idea of having Alicia rejoin yet another incarnation of Lockhart Gardner and estranged husband Illinois Governor Peter (Chris Noth, still a “special guest star” after 7 years) put on trial yet again for corruption felt as much like exhaustion as closure.

Tonight’s final hour, written by the Kings and directed by Robert King, will annoy some with its lack of explicit closure.  It did ring the symmetry bell some more.  We had one last race-to-the-courthouse set of motions and hurried testimony, as Alicia, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) frantically maneuvered to keep Peter out of jail, even as Alicia negotiated with prosecutor Connor Fox (Matthew Morrison, present in a bunch of episodes this season but never really getting a fully-formed character) for a deal.  There was some fan service, via the surprise return of Josh Charles as a ghostly Will Gardner, counseling Alicia as to whether to stick by Peter or begin a serious relationship with Jason.  The biggest symmetry, though, came in the last act, as Alicia stood on a podium once again beside her disgraced husband, with a slap administered afterward.  This time, though, Alicia was the one struck, by a furious Diane, whose own husband, ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole), was humiliated on the stand when Alicia had Lucca ask Kurt about whether his adultery with a protege had influenced his testimony about the trial Peter was accused of fixing when he was State’s Attorney.  (We never heard the answer.)  That slap was as close to closure as the finale got:  we don’t know whether Alicia ended up with Jason, or whether she ran for higher office herself, as the eternally scheming Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) was beginning to plan, but the Kings brought home the message that had gradually been imparted over 7 years:  Alicia Florrick, the good wife, was now far from good.  She had, to turn a phrase, broken bad.

The Good Wife was a weekly festival of sparkling writing and acting.  The Kings and their fellow writer/producers had a bottomless well of smart dialogue and instantly vivid characters, and even the most routine hours crackled with intelligence and care.  The show cast as many great New York stage actors as the Law & Order shows, but unlike the Dick Wolf procedurals, Good Wife gave them great roles to play.  There were too many to name, but along with all those already mentioned, recurring guest stars like Carrie Preston, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Steele, Margo Martindale, Mary Beth Peil, Stockard Channing… the show could have singlehandedly filled the Best Guest Actor categories at the Emmys in every year of its existence.

At the top, of course, was Margulies, in a performance that for all its acclaim may have been underrated.  Alicia Florrick was as multi-faceted as Don Draper, Tony Soprano or Walter White–or for that matter Michael Corleone–and was better at cloaking her venom and ambition than any of them.  The partnership between Margulies and the Kings was one for the ages.

The Kings, by the way, will be back on the air almost instantly, with a summer comedy-thriller called Brain Dead about zombies in Washington, which should certainly be fertile territory.  Margulies will return to TV as soon as she feels like accepting an offer.  Yet as many stars and creators of great shows discover, the chance to touch greatness doesn’t easily recur.  (Margulies has already pushed the odds, having been a part of ER.)  For all the flaws of this final Good Wife season, the biggest disappointment was that it had to end.  (Is it too soon to root for a Netflix reboot?)  Although there is certainly entertainment value to be had from network shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and The 100, the exit of The Good Wife takes with it the special regard we used to have for broadcast network hours, the medium that gave us Hill Street Blues and Friday Night Lights, NYPD Blue and thirtysomething.  Like Will’s brief fantasy return, it already feels like a ghost.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."