One of the big pieces of news to come out of the Television Critics Association Press Tour this past week was that Robert and Michelle King (“In Justice”), the showrunners of “The Good Wife” since the beginning of its run, are leaving the show to pursue other projects. There’s still a chance the show will continue for a season eight, but it will be without its two key voices. Honestly, their leaving might be the best thing that could happen to the show. The pair has done a lot of great things with these characters and this world, but the Kings’ contributions are starting to feel long in the tooth as the show pushes weaker political storylines and artificial character separation. The mid-season premiere of the drama has a little bit of both sides: a fantastic opening scene followed by an episode of political bullshit.
The mid-season finale closed with Eli Gold (Alan Cumming, “Strange Magic”) revealing to Alicia (Julianna Margulies, “ER”) that he deleted a voicemail from her former partner Will Gardner where he declared that he loved her and would leave everything for her. Alicia tells Eli to “get out” in the premiere, but he doesn’t leave. Instead, he tries to talk to her. Alicia reacts slowly, taking some plates out of a cabinet and painstakingly sorting through the pile. As Alicia goes through each one, the tension builds, especially because Margulies shows little emotion. But when Alicia starts throwing the plates at Eli, there’s a release. In that moment, Margulies is legitimately terrifying, bringing up a groundswell of anger and sadness which comes from grief and a wonder for what could have been. It reminded me of the show at its best, when the emotional impact of the character’s decisions produced unparalleled drama.
If only the rest of the episode lived up to its opening, as it spends the rest of its time following Peter Florrick’s (Chris Noth, “Sex and the City”) campaign, as he tries to visit every county in Iowa before the caucus. The Kings’ interest in politics has existed since the beginning, but it fails to justify why they took the time to have Peter run for president. It seems like the writers only included this arc in order to be timely and have sharp conversations about the issues and primaries, but overall it was just boring. The episode attempted to build drama from Peter’s mistakes and whether or not he’d be viable, but I felt nothing watching the artificially-built turmoil. Even having “Character Actress” Margo Martindale (“Justified”) isn’t enough to make the story viable. It’s OK for a show to experiment, but the show has dug its head in and kept going with a story which just doesn’t work.
The biggest reason why the political stories haven’t worked is that they keep Alicia separate from the lawyers at Lockhart, Agos & Lee. They are stuck in their own world, and it’s hurting the show. The artificial obstacles and stupid misunderstandings seem like the Kings are roadblocking the characters into the separation, leading to storylines like David Lee (Zach Grenier, “Fight Club”) and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo, “Getting On”) negotiating a prenup for Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler, “A Most Violent Year”) and Jackie Florrick (Mary Beth Piel, “Dawson’s Creek”) a plotline which appears to exist only so contractual obligations can be filled.
Every time I think the Kings are running out of steam, they pull out a scene like the episode’s opening. Still, it seems like they’ve forgotten what made the show great. It wasn’t the tackling of relevant issues or the political intrigue — it was the characters and the drama that came from their interactions. By throwing Cary and Diane into their own show and putting a heavy focus on a useless 2016 election story, it undermines those character moments. The Kings leaving could be a breath of fresh air should the show continue, as it would allow a new showrunner to return to the basics and put the focus back on the characters. However, it could also dig the show even deeper into the muck, and at that point the show might as well disappear.