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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

When did The Good Wife become a comedy?

Illustration for article titled When did The Good Wife become a comedy?
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I never would have guessed that an episode of The Good Wife featuring Kelly Bishop and Vanessa Williams would be anything less than stellar, and yet here we are with “Restraint,” an hour that embodies most of what’s not quite working with the show’s seventh season. That being said, it’s probably the funniest of the season. There are way more humorous antics than usual, and while they can be fun, they just sort of don’t fit and make the overall tone of the episode awkward and unsure of itself.

The Good Wife, it seems, is still going through a bit of an identity crisis in season seven. In its early years, The Good Wife hovered between legal procedural and political drama, pulling elements from both genres and sometimes employing them simultaneously. By the time season five came along, the show had placed character drama at the center of the narrative. The political schemes and courtroom thrills were still there, but characters and relationships came first. It’s that part of the show that seems to be missing in season seven. New faces have been introduced, but they function more as devices than catalysts for new character drama. Jason seems to merely exist to flash flirty smiles at Alicia—and now Diane—which was fun for a second but hasn’t led to much by way of substantial character work. I haven’t been able to decide if Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t giving a very good performance or if the character is just written as so one-note and unsubtle that he hasn’t had much to work with. Cush Jumbo has been delightful as Lucca Quinn, but again, she serves little purpose on the show right now other than propping up Alicia’s storyline.

When she was first introduced at the beginning of the season, it seemed like Lucca and Alicia were on track to have one of the complex and compelling work relationships that the show got a lot of juice out of in past seasons (Alicia/Will, Alicia/Kalinda, Alicia/Cary, even Alicia/Peter from time to time). But Lucca and Alicia’s relationship hasn’t been written with any specificity or emotional stakes. And not only that, but their dynamic is also inconsistent. Sometimes, they resemble a dream team with their unison objections and co-slaying in court. Other times, like here in “Restraint,” they fumble with each other and are on completely different pages.

The storyline in the episode that plays to the show’s strengths the most is Diane’s, but even that part of the episode falls flat. Diane and Irving Carver’s unlikely alliance continues when he asks her to take on a case that’s an analog to the real-life events between Planned Parenthood’s Deborah Nucatola and the right-wing activist group Center For Medical Progress. As Diane repeats over and over—to others, but also mostly for herself—the case is about free speech. But as Bea Wilson (Bishop) points out, that’s really just an excuse. Diane’s predicament plays with some of the major themes The Good Wife picks apart often, namely, the ongoing internal conflict of arguing cases that go against one’s own political beliefs.

Diane in particular has been at the center of this discussion ever since Reese Dipple came into the picture. But it has led to more of a circular trajectory for Diane than any sort of character arc. Diane’s motivations throughout “Restraint” remain nebulous. She pulls off an impressive landing in the end, throwing the case without ever backing down, but it just feels like there are pieces missing, especially because we haven’t spent much time with Diane all season. The storyline bites off more than it can chew, and the presiding judge’s conversation with Diane is more of an obvious statement of things we already know than a crucial character moment. “It’s not you,” he tells her. But as season seven progresses, it’s becoming less and less clear what is Diane or, more accurately who she is.

“Restraint” shoots for a powerful Diane Lockhart episode but misses, and all the other characters seem oddly stuck in more of a workplace comedy than a legal and political drama. Grace Florrick continues to make herself useful, and her ambient office sounds trick is amusing, but a lot of time is spent with this storyline when it serves little other purpose than plot advancement for Florrick Quinn. Humor is fine and has always had a place in this show, but too much of it is starting to make The Good Wife feel more corny than piercing.


Eli’s office provides some more physical comedy, and Alan Cumming is hilarious when conveying just how un-hilarious Eli is in his delivery of that fisk joke. But matters take a very confusing turn when Eli and Courtney Paige (Williams) end up in a romance that seemingly came out of nowhere. Romantic entanglements are usually not something rushed on The Good Wife. Alicia will probably spend the rest of the season exchanging smiles and mini tacos before anything happens between her and Jason—if at all. Of course, that has to do with the character’s own hangups and general trust issues, but relationships in general on The Good Wife—romantic or otherwise—take a lot of time and development. Maybe this is just because there doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between Courtney and Eli, but that kiss just didn’t seem to mean anything or have any real basis.

There are certainly a lot of big-picture conflicts brewing this season. Eli Gold puts it best when he says of Alicia’s predicament with Landau: “Well let’s just file that one under ongoing disasters, shall we?” That sums up a lot of the awkwardness of this episode. Most of the season’s major threads get pushed to the sides to make room for…Grace Florrick cold calls and a Diane case that never finds its footing? The case is topical, but it isn’t imbued with the same kind of powerful character drama as Scandal’s abortion episode from this week. It just renders as hollow—topical for the sake of being topical. And even the ongoing disasters Eli is referring to haven’t been all that grounded, with the Landau drama particularly lacking emotional significance. The Good Wife is relying a lot on plot lately, and the inconsistently and vagueness in a lot of the relationships right now is just making it harder to be invested in what’s happening, even when smart points are being made about the issues at hand.


Stray observations

  • Lucca: “I was thinking futuristically.” This is a hilarious excuse for outright lying, and I am going to borrow it.
  • As soon as Lucca showed up for that meeting with Canning, I figured she was playing him. No one ever truly works with Canning. Someone is always going to double cross someone when that guy is involved.
  • Is Grace still in high school? Did she drop out? I could also bring back the Where Is Zach Florrick question, but I suppose there isn’t much of a point anymore.
  • That frozen yogurt place was, I believe, called YOUGOGURT.
  • In what has become a troubling pattern, Cary is completely pointless here.
  • How many hours a day do you think Eli spends listening to that vent?