Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The best show on TV just got better

Sunday night I watched THE GOOD WIFE and HOMELAND. Both are hour long dramas. Both star extraordinary actresses (Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes). I’m fans of both series. In HOMELAND this week the main character, Carrie is playing a dangerous game of espionage trying to capture a scary supervillain terrorist leader. Her life is in jeopardy every minute. She’s under constant surveillance. One tiny slip, one innocent misstep and thousands of people could die. Add to that: she’s mentally unstable, the leadership of the CIA is about to change in a bad way, and she’s trying to protect the most hated man in America.

On THE GOOD WIFE, the lead character, Alicia, is leaving her law firm to start another one.

THE GOOD WIFE was riveting. I was spellbound for sixty-minutes. Halfway through HOMELAND I was yawning.

You don’t need guns and car chases and suicide bombers to create compelling suspense. THE GOOD WIFE trumps it with delicious human drama. We’re watching a conflict we’ve never seen in a lawyer show – senior lawyers splitting off from a major firm to start their own. It involves poaching clients, severing ties, betrayal, establishing territory, blocking each other’s moves, and seeing trusted friends and lovers (Alicia and Will were so hot together!) now hating each other. Watching two middle-aged security guards gently escorting Alicia out of the firm was more disturbing than the comparable HOMELAND scene where two terrorist thugs hauled Carrie out of her house with a bag over her head after forcing her to strip at gunpoint.

As Twitter follower @raylancon referred to Sunday's GOOD WIFE: Unbelievable. That was the most thrilling restraining order hearing in TV history.

Great drama is great character interaction. And no show does it better right now than THE GOOD WIFE. I not only marvel at the inventiveness of the stories and complexity of the characters, I just can’t believe this show is on a broadcast network.

By the way, THE GOOD WIFE is also one of the best comedies on the air now. I laughed out loud when Alicia, all professional and lawyery in her business suit realized she wasn’t wearing panties.

Like I said, this high end corporate civil war is subject matter I’ve not seen dramatized before. And of course the acrimony and shifting alliances for personal gain resonated even more with me because well… that’s also Hollywood. I’ve been on the other side of it. Agents splitting off from big agencies to form their own. I was once forced to choose between staying with my TV agent (whom I loved) and going with my feature agent (whom I equally loved). Today I’m at neither agency. The only thing certain about all the upheaval is this: it’s never to benefit the clients; it’s ONLY to benefit themselves.

Congratulations to Robert & Michelle King for mounting the best show on television, even if the cool kids don’t know it.  Ha ha.  Us uncool kids know something you don't. 

Robert & Michelle have totally flipped their show on its ear.  And the result is mesmerizing.   Special bonus:  more for Josh Charles to do.   Maybe now he'll finally get that elusive Emmy he's long deserved.  Sorry Jon Hamm.  I'm voting for Josh. 

I can’t wait to see what happens next week on THE GOOD WIFE. Meanwhile, Carrie will figure out how to deal with the terrorist on HOMELAND. She always does.

32 comments:

Bobby Rich said...

When they first began making such major shifts in the show I worried it would be a JTS thing... but no... they knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going. The last two episodes have made me both gasp and laugh out loud... as well as saying "wow--I did NOT see that coming."

goodman.dl said...

Agreed. The writing and performances on this show are top notch. It's amazing both how good the good beats on this show are, and how few the bad beats are. And this show has just about the deepest bench of quality recurring characters I've ever seen.

That doesn't hurt...

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

How can you criticize Homeland if you didn't even pay attention to what was happening?

Carrie wasn't kidnapped by terrorists. She was ensnared into Javadi's Iranian intelligence network. It was all part of her plan to target and frame Javadi, in retaliation for the CIA bombing last year.

Part of the suspense involves the current conflict between Saul and Quinn. Quinn is willing to break protocol, in order to protect Carrie, while Saul is more than willing to throw her into the wolves, in order to make sure the plan works.

The way I see it, you're just doing this because of the Dana hate thread, and because it's become hip to dump on Homeland. It doesn't mean the criticism has any standing.

You, more than anyone, should know that a show often goes with unpopular story choices for dramatic storytelling. You still go along for the ride, even if the audience gets uncomfortable, because the payoff is bound to be worth it.

But of course, you picked The Good Wife, everyone's media darling, as the comparison show, so it's pretty obvious you're only doing this for the popularity.

swedishfish said...

I feel exactly the same way. Somehow my DVR didnt' record the last couple of episodes last season (and they weren't on CBS.com or Hulu, and I just didn't want to buy eps) so I missed them and I was taken by surprise by the new firm thing. And as it's developed, I've thought, "They've just preempted staleness!" Season four (five?), things start getting old--nope, let's flip it on its side. Very cool. I've started watching it in real time, too, rather than doing a binge catch-up - partly b/c of last season's DVR snafu and partly just because I can't wait to see what happens! One of exactly three shows I'm watching this season.

david russell said...

I agree with you on its occasional laugh out loud funniness. In the middle of this very acrimonious termination, Will delivers a routine domestic message for Alicia to call her daughter's school about a field trip. I did laugh out loud. But it was also a revealing character moment: Will's not just an evil, greedy lawyer; hey - this is your kid we're talking about. Brilliant, really.

Dana King said...

Apocalyptic thrillers have had such a run now, there's no way to keep from feeling whatever they show is something we've seen before, and, by the way, New York is not going to get blown up. I hope we're in for a period of more intimate drama.

I'm a crime fiction fan and writer, just watched THE FRENCH CONNECTION for about the tenth time over the weekend. The way to spin a suspenseful tale is not through explosions, car chases, and end of the world scenarios; it's through people.

Barbara McT said...

Yay, a place to gush about this episode. I don't watch Homeland, so I can't compare, but I thought Sunday's The Good Wife was phenomenal.

Nonstop action from the minute it started and even if you had never seen the show before, you'd still be caught up in the drama.

From one scene to the next, I didn't know who I was rooting for. Poor Will! But what a dick move in Alicia's office. Cary you slimeball. But hey Diane, you playing the wounded mentor is pretty rich. Everyone revealed their worst side, which is always fun to watch. (Except Eli - and that's an odd switch isn't it?)

Characters made choices that were completely in character and yet we, the audience know they are such bad decisions. Peter - most ethical administration my ass. And worse, he's taunting the man who has proof his election was rigged, all for what is essentially a dick measuring contest. So Peter. And Alicia - using Peter's office to her own advantage isn't going to last long because we all know he's going to cheat on her again, right?

Kalinda remains the Sphinx - I never know what her deal is. I wonder if Alicia will feel guilt/get into trouble over using her son to access the files, Diane losing her judgeship (how could she have ever thought she wouldn't?) will send her back to Lockhart/Gardner with a score to settle.

The writers just blew up their whole show and it was fantastic!

Dave Logan said...

Great episode of The Good Wife, a show that could have gone the other way and wallowed in soap opera plot lines. Particularly liked the elevation of Chris Noth's character Peter Florrick. Good to see him getting in the action.

Hamid said...

Been a big fan of Josh Charles since Dead Poets Society.

croquemore said...

I only started watching The Good Wife this past spring. I was able to binge watch up to the 4th season finale. I agree with Ken that this is the best show on tv right now. I only remember one commercial break in the show Sunday night.(i'm sure there were more) but I think the first act lasted well past the 20 minute mark and it was amazing. I love it when I show picks me up and takes me away for an hour. The Good Wife never fails.

I think one of the most interesting things about The Good Wife is how not only have they created compelling main characters that you feel empathy for, they have also single handedly created the absolute best recurring guest-actor troupe ever.

From Martha Plimpton's Patty Nyholm, to Carrie Preston's Elsbeth Tascioni to Michael J. Fox's Louis Canning all are different, well-rounded, multi-dimensional characters that they use regularly. And the thing is, these are just a few regular guest stars. I think the writers deserve as much credit for creating these characters and using them effectively as the main characters.

I really think ultimately, when The Good Wife reaches its end, people will remember the show not only for Josh Charles, Julianna and Christine Baranski but for the memorable guest roles that were created and allowed to flourish. Much the same way Ed Winter and Allan Arbus are remembered for M*A*S*H.

Michael said...

Friday question: There have many examples over the years of sitcoms of couples where the wife is much more attractive than the husband but hard-pressed to think of any cases where reverse was true. I always assumed it was some sort of wish-fulfillment on the part of male sitcom writers. Do you see this changing as more female writers become showrunners or is this something the networks would resist?

Anonymous said...

The Good Wife has been incredible this season (and it was never anything less than excellent before). Episode after episode keeps you guessing and they never take the easy or predictable way out. It's easily the best written show on TV (broadcast and cable) and is a living lesson on how to move characters and story together. Great work. -Marvw

Valerie Geller said...

Ken, great piece - loved this! The Good Wife IS a fabulous show. Interesting to read the dynamics/antics mimic your experience in the Hollywood world (agents!)but among friends/colleagues who work in various "worlds" (from the restaurant business to running high level departments at Ivy universities) ALL say it's "just like THEIR world," Certainly the dynamics are familiar in radio/TV seem very familiar... what's great about this is that it's PEOPLE - human themes always a winner - like Shakespeare - love, lust ambition, hunger, power and money - always interesting...

Uncertain Woman said...

I second all the accolades above and would like to add one more line of praise: the themes covered in the show. We’re talking office politics, local politics, party politics, money, religion, morality, sex, love, friendship, raising kids, adults dealing with their parents, the Internet, and so much more.

I love every minute of this show, but it’s been a long time since I’ve prioritized watching it live. But I simply had to watch it in real time this past Sunday, and I was richly rewarded. So many great twists and turns. I can’t believe Kalinda fooled Carey AND me. Damn you Kalinda! Seriously, I couldn’t ask for more.

Steve said...

Ken, Did you see this yet? The 'Cheers' Halloween costume. Fantastic! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/cheers-halloween-costume_n_4169894.html

RockGolf said...

Two points: 1) LA Law actually did something similar, when Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey and Jimmy Smits' characters all left McKenzie Brackman. But as the actors were all leaving the series (Dey returned for 1 more season) we didn't get to see anything that happened in the new firm.
2) Suspense is measured by perceived risk. You weren't particularly worried about Carrie in Homeland, because you know (at least you're pretty sure) they won't kill off the main character.
But on, say, Breaking Bad, they had incredible suspense by threatening secondary characters. Like Hank in the parking lot, about to be attacked by the twins. Or Gail's murder. Or even Gustavo Fring. Was there a more gasp-worthy moment in any medium than (SPOILER) the seconds after the bomb blast where Gus seems to walk out of the room intact?

Lon Helton said...

Lon Helton

Always enjoy your insights Ken. The only thing that bothered me in Sunday's episode was Peter's decision to tank Diane's judgeship. It would be FAR better for Alicia's new firm if Diane was gone from L-G. She returns to the firm a woman scorned (and we know what that means) and makes L-G much stronger than if she weren't there .... and much bigger competition for Alicia's new firm. Of course, it's much more intriguing for TGW this way.

John said...

You people should be watching Suits if you love TGW. Three seasons of internal politics, backstabbing, firm against firm, firm against itself intrigue. Definitely one of the top shows on TV.

Marty Fufkin said...

I agree with you completely. The Good Wife and Homeland are the only two shows I'm following right now. Homeland only because I'm kinda hooked on it, but it leaves me hoping that one of the main characters will slip up and kill everyone, just to put them out of their misery.

With The Good Wife, even in its fifth season, when many shows are jumping the shark, this one only gets better. I'm amazed at how much comedy they manage to squeeze into the intense drama of it all, so effortlessly. It's different from the usual "dramady" formula -- it's like nothing I've watched before.

That said, when I've re-watched episodes of The Good Wife, I've found the second viewings insubstantial, unlike Mad Men or The Wire, which become different shows the second time round. Regardless, it is quite an amazing show considering it's on a basic network.

Mike said...

How good is British TV? So good that The Best Show on American Television is relegated to a reality television subchannel, airing in the early hours of the morning between 24 Hours in A&E (which is an Emergency Room) and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (which are weddings between big, fat gypsies).
(And the Captcha was Radscum.)

wholeearthblog.com said...

I could not agree more, Ken. This show has been great from day one, but it feels like a completely new show, and I am looking forward to where this goes.

Lorimartian said...

I have watched this show twice, the last two weeks, even though I've been aware that some of my favorite actors have been guesting, including Cumming, Fox, and Lane, and co-starring, namely the triple-talented Christine Baranski. Isn't she something! I, too, noticed how they let scenes run long which interfered with my habit of multi-tasking because I was completey drawn in.

Also, I love the way the writers handle exposition. They write so economically and to the point, managing to concisely provide just enough relevant historical information, without slowing the pace, so a new or casual viewer doesn't feel completely lost. That's tricky, and they are really good at it.

OT: So "Mom" was moving along nicely last night until Anna Faris' character had to say, "My farts smelled like butterscotch." C'mon, Chuck. I buy it on "Men" (but still don't think it's funny) because of the adolescent-level characters, but do ALL of your characters have to be crude? Is EVERYONE you know crude? Give me a break.

Buck Pearl said...

All previous seasons of TGW are avail. on Amazon - free to Prime members. Very good show.

Cody said...

Found the best Cheers Halloween costumer ever. I think you'd agree:

<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/cheers-halloween-costume_n_4169894.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular</a>

Cody said...

Whoops...screwed up the encoding...

Best Cheers Costume

Dave Arnott said...

Have loved The Good Wife from Day One. This season is especially great (so far, anyway).

I also love Suits. It's gone over-the-top a bit too much (like 2-3 times per a season), but the characters - and casting - is so good, I'm happy to forgive them for it.

chalmers said...

Given your familiarity with David Clennon, if you've never seen the two-part "Towers of Zenith" episode of "Thirtysomething," you should try to find it.

I still remember being gripped by the drama of Michael and Elliott finding themselves in a position similar to the current "Good Wife" arc.

Dan in WNY said...

Clennon was outstanding in "ThirtySomething". And I loved when Zwick & Herscovitz brought him back ten years later in "Once and Again".

Credit where due: these are the guys who introduced us to a young Claire Danes and a young Evan Rachel Wood.

McAlvie said...

I don't have an opinion on Homeland. I watched an episode early on and it just wasn't my cup of tea. I admit that I am drawn more to character driven shows. I'm not against having stuff blow up once in a while, but banter is what really grabs me.

Which is why TGW does keep me coming back. I agree that the suspense this week was great. And as I kinda like all the characters, I wasn't even sure who to root for. It's been fun to see Baranski in the kind of role she deserves.

Mike said...

Looking at the picture,
Don Draper appears on The Good Wife?
Talk about trolling for Emmys.

Anonymous said...

Corporate civil war never covered?

It seems like most every law show has had plenty of that...and even as i'm typing, also a long arc on Entourage...

VP81955 said...

Someday, I hope the term "the best show on TV" describes a comedy. Please.