Or at least I think we did. Sometimes, I’m not so sure.
The rumored cancellation of “The Good Wife” that sent spasms of contempt and disgust through a good part of early 2013 never came to pass, thank heaven. After a depressingly long time “on the bubble” – as the programmers like to say – the show was renewed for next season, thereby preserving what is, arguably, the smartest show on network prime time and, inarguably, the most sophisticated one.
And that last is why I’m not completely sure that “The Good Wife’s” return to CBS prime time next season is a total victory for those of us who like the show so much. There is, after all, a small part of me that thinks that at the plot point the show has now reached, the ideal place for “The Good Wife” would be cable-TV – CBS’ premium cable sister Showtime, let’s say, where they routinely get away with things like “Californication,” “House of Lies,” “Shameless” and “Homeland” that would probably get a green-lighting CBS executive arrested in Cincinnati.
We’re talking, for instance, about a prime-time CBS show that has had an instance of blatantly implied oral sex on a bathroom laundry hamper and another instance where Alicia Florrick, during a family get together, yanked her estranged husband into their formerly conjugal bedroom just to share some quick and dirty intimacy and rebel decisively against the unseemly and intrusive inquisition of her mother into her current erotic life.
When the former bathroom incident took place, a female superior – gingerly – wrote to ask me if I’d seen “The Good Wife” the night before. It was the middle of the day when she got around to it, but I knew that she was hoping for another perspective on the rarity – perhaps even singularity – of what she’d just seen on CBS during prime time on Sunday (which used to be known as “family viewing night” in another era).
I was committed to writing about something else the next day, but I understood what she was really asking: “Can they DO that on prime time? Are they going to get away with it?”
Yep. I reassured her they could indeed. There might be a minor yelp or two, but it was all handled so deftly that no one who knew what was happening would object on a night that has now given us “Shameless,” “Californication,” “The Sopranos” and “Game of Thrones” across the dial.
But what’s uncommonly interesting about the situation of the central characters of “The Good Wife” – a situation that is sharpened so acutely in Sunday’s upcoming season finale of the show – is that the episode’s ending came as both a big surprise to me, as well as a thoroughly logical answer to the characters’ major dilemmas, when you think about it.
But the preview of the finale I saw also leaves the heroine with a problem that it seems could best be explored on a cable network that allows for more specific bedroom frankness than we are ever likely to see on CBS Sunday nights at 9.
The emotional core of “The Good Wife” is an unusual triangle in which “Good Wife” Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is in the middle of two smitten high-power Type A men: a formerly philandering husband who is running for governor of Illinois (Chris Noth, formerly “Big” on “Sex and the City”) and an old law school fling and now law partner (Josh Charles, formerly of “Sports Night”).
What’s uncommon about all this is that it’s her husband, the gubernatorial candidate, who’s the dirty guy – a tempting sexual release valve at stolen moments.
Her law partner Will (her promotion was a big plot point this season) offers another kind of stolen moment – warm, romantic, smushy kisses on elevators after the doors close or in cars parked in deserted lots.
If her randy, oversexed husband hadn’t derailed their marriage by messing around with prostitutes and getting caught (the show was originally based loosely on Eliot Spitzer’s marriage), there might not be any triangle at all for “The Good Wife.” She could stay “Good.”
It is a fact of life among genuinely civilized human adults that there is erotic information so specific and so intimate that no one should be really entitled to it other than the participants.
It doesn’t stop college kids in gyms, dorms, fraternities and sororities from flinging it around recklessly, but it is axiomatic among the adults of the world that the more detailed it gets, the more it is likely to be self-serving (on the part of the tale-teller) to the point of rank inaccuracy.
It’s especially true of relationships that have gone so south that tales told out of school are acts of revenge. Their truth value is, at best, 50-50.
On a TV show, though, viewers want a triangle resolution that makes sense. And the way “The Good Wife” leaves us in Sunday’s finale is with questions that maybe only a bit more detailed information would solve.
Where we are on “The Good Wife” is the point where a good therapist – or a good friend – would have to press for a bit more information about the differing satisfactions involved in each of Florrick’s relationships.
Sunday’s season finale – thank heaven it wasn’t the series finale – does a lot of things very well indeed.
It has a couple of solid belly laughs and, as I said, a surprising conclusion to all the dramatic matters that have been bubbling all season long. It’s a solution that is, when you think about it all the way through, an eminently logical and full solution to our heroine’s most pressing life problems.
And yes, of course, they can handle it all very well on network prime time next season with the same kind of deft toe dancing along the sidelines they’ve been doing with carnal matters all along on the show.
But what you have to wonder about a show that offers so much sophistication in prime time is this: How much better would it be if we were privy to the intimate information that really told us something about the central figures rather than dropped broad hints and then quickly went back to hide behind the curtain.
When a week’s episode of “The Good Wife” is over, we’re still watching television.
To paraphrase an old promotional ad, maybe now on “The Good Wife,” what we need isn’t television but rather HBO.
Or Showtime or FX or AMC or …