E: I only set out to watch The Good Wife tonight, but my husband was busy when it started, and so while it recorded, I got sucked in by the first few minutes of The Forgotten. And when it turned out that Devon Gummersall (Brian Krakow of My So Called Life!) was guest starring, I had to go back and watch the whole thing. And I’ve less to say about that, so I’m going to start there, if nobody minds. 🙂 (M: I mind.) I’m going to cut this for spoilers, so please, meet me and discuss after the jump. Well, I will say this first: The Forgotten was perfectly fine, but The Good Wife was something more. I’m more likely to talk about the setup and format of TF, whereas I’ll probably get into actual spoilers for the other, and since I’d generally recommend it, get thee to CBS.com if you haven’t seen it!
First, The Forgotten. You can picture it: a group of writers sitting around, looking for a vehicle for Christian Slater (or possibly for Brit Rupert Penry Jones, as I understand it – and damn if I wouldn’t have been WAY more interested in watching him), saying, well, we want to do a procedural, but how to do we distinguish it from all the other CSIs and NCISes and Traces of Criminal Cold Cases out there? We have a team with a charismatic leader (debatable; highly debatable) with a tragic backstory. What about if we have a voice over done by the victim of the week? Right, right. And we can see them in a sort of ghostly way when the team is on the track. And, hmm, since there are a billion shows about police investigating crimes, how about our thing is that we’re amateurs? Each with their own special talents (even if in most cases that seems to be getting beaten up or intuitive shopping) and reasons for doing this? All the women can be in love with the sexy leader, but of course he’s too damaged to notice. And he brings the comfort of knowledge and closure with him where ever he goes.
That last was a little odd. Not that Christian Slater can’t be magnetic (hello, Pump Up The Volume and Heathers!) but it’s been a while. Maybe I just like him better when he’s being bad. Also, we see the women over-react to him initially, but don’t really see their awe of him translate into the rest of their behavior. And to be frank, he doesn’t earn it. Of course his backstory is devastating, but it ought to be supported by him being extraordinarily gifted at his job, or so tortured as to make you want to take him home and put a smile on his face (M: Ok, ewwww. Please stop dragging us into the gutter with your euphemisms and fan fic sex posts. ;). It’s important to me that when a show telegraphs that a character is a certain way, or makes people respond to them a certain way, that the reactions are earned. So far, I don’t see it.
The VO is an interesting tweak of the format, surely; it brings to mind Alice Sebold’s excellent novel Lovely Bones. And Gummersall brings a slightly chilling Craigslist killer look to his role, which worked well. None of the characters are vividly drawn, but surely that’s not an insurmountable obstacle for this kind of pilot. Up until the very end I thought it was a pretty decent procedural, for what that’s worth; not something I’d watch, but not as bad as I was expecting it to be. And then the mother of the murder victim says to Slater, smiling through her tears as she stands over her daughter’s grave, “Tonight, when I go to bed, at least I won’t worry. Thank you for bringing my daughter back to me.”
And, yeah, that’s when you lost me. Because while I can believe that closure helps in general, I have trouble believing that in this particular case – that of a runaway – the mother would accept such comfort so quickly. Certainly she didn’t have a reason before to think her daughter was dead, and I can’t imagine you could process your gratitude that quickly even if you eventually ended up feeling it. Add that to the heartbreaking reason the daughter was murdered (and here I find myself trying not to spoil – silly, but there it is) and I just don’t buy it at all.
What I am buying, however, is The Good Wife. Now this I wanted to watch for ER‘s luminous Juliana Margulies, although finding out that Josh Charles (Dead Poets Society! Sports Night!) also stars was a delightful bonus. (C: Wait just one minute. JOSH CHARLES? Aw heck, I might have to watch this.) Margulies’ Alicia Florrick is married to Chris Noth’s Peter, who used to be the States Attorney for Cook County (ie Chicago) and was brought down in a sex and corruption scandal (M: Chicago politician? Corruption and sex scandal? So far it sounds like non-fiction). The show begins with the hazy hell of a press conference where she stands by his side and can’t quite process the enormity of the situation. All she can focus on is the stray thread on his jacket to contain her rage and disgust. He was set up on the corruption bit, he’s eager to assure his wife, as if that could lessen her pain or humiliation. It becomes clear that as far as the more personal charge goes, he was – if not set up – then at least exposed by someone who wanted (and got) his job.
Alicia herself is more of a cypher. Why didn’t she leave? What’s left when one partner blows up their marriage? She’s polite, efficient and sympathetic; she knows how to hold herself back, how to hold her temper, and so when she does lose control, it almost hurts to watch. It seems she can’t get away from Peter, even when he’s in jail. For the last thirteen years she’s been a mother and a political wife; now she’s returning to work as a trial attorney, where every day she encounters colleagues and law enforcement professionals who put their opinion of her husband on her. The ghost of him poisons her interactions. She gets platitudes and false good wishes from some, and open hostility from others. We meet a feisty judge who hated her husband but is fiercely determined to judge her on her own merits. And the new State’s Attorney, who thinks she’s her husband’s pawn, seeking revenge. There’s Matt Czuchry’s fresh faced weasel competing with Alicia for an associate’s position at law school chum Charles’ firm. There’s her new mentor, Christine Baranski, who seems supportive until Alicia starts doing too good a job. And then there’s Alicia’s mother in law (announced by the “Twilight Zone” theme song ringtone) who helps out around the house by telling her teenage granddaughter to buy more slimming pants, and exhorting Alicia to forgive and forget.
What’s really nice about the show is that even the know-it-all mother-in-law isn’t a cardboard cut out; sure, she’s taken more than clothes out of Bunny MacDougal’s Sex and the City wardrobe, but no matter how vexing she is, she’s also there, and doing her best. And you know what else is awesome? It’s the opposite of Castle, in some ways; The Good Wife belongs to the Veronica Mars Is Smarter Than You school of mysteries. Alicia is very bright, and she does her homework, and she pays attention where other people don’t. To her horror, she’s hustled into court without preparation on her very first day back at work. Because too many of her colleagues are needed for a massive civil action, she’s given a pro bono retrial for a school teacher accused of killing her ex-husband. The girl, played by Katie Walder, couldn’t look more innocent, and the case against her couldn’t be more damning. But wait, says Peter when Alicia visits him in jail so he can sign off on the sale of their house, I seem to remember that we pitted something in that case – which is to say, excluded weird evidence from the record because it looked irrelevant. When she finds pages missing from the police report, the prosecution rightly surmises that her husband clued her in, and wrongly assumes she hasn’t done the work and that Peter, not Alicia, is the threat to their case.
When Alicia pulls a Perry Mason in court, it’s immensely satisfying, and even more so because of her early struggles and the odds against her. It’s hard not to sympathize with Margulies; there’s empathy in her big sad eyes, but also a tensile strength. She’s not staying from ambition, or avarice, and she’s not leaving in anger. There’s so much more to find out about Alicia and her situation. Will she stay with Peter, who fervently believes that he’ll be exonerated of all charges and that everything will go back to what it was? (He ought to listen to Alexis Castle’s advice on apologies!) Will she let his defense fund continue to eat up family finances? Can she learn to trust him again? Should she try? We only see her relax with her children and with old friend and new boss Josh Charles – will that relationship deepen? Will she ever outlive what Baranski tags her ‘prominent baggage”? I’m guessing she’s going to beat out Czuchry’s little rat for the associate position at the end of their six month trial period, but however it happens, I’m certain it will feel earned. She’s going to have a lot of uphill climbs, and I think I might enjoy trekking with her. This was easily good enough to make me tune in next week.