As the year 2014 is in its final count down, meaning hours and minutes rather than months and days, at least where I sit in Sarasota, FL, I am going to describe my activities over the last month. I’ve become a couch potato, virtually glued to my sofa and/or my TV watching chair. Some might call it watching TV, some might call it binge-watching television. Others might call it full immersion or ‘get a life’.
This month, I’ve basically watched just two TV series, with a few exceptions for Homeland and The Newsroom What I most watched were two series, both of which are rated at or near the top of any lists of the best of television ever. One series, HBO’s The Wire, ran for five seasons, from 2002 to 2008. There were sixty episodes. I had not seen even one episode prior to December 2014.
The other series is The Good Wife on CBS. This is an ongoing series, currently in its sixth season. The series usually presented twenty-two episodes, each running about 42 to 43 minutes, per season. Multiplied over five full seasons and the partial current season, that still adds up to a lot of time spent looking at a TV.
I’m going to close out 2014 with a look at The Good Wife, and begin 2015 with a look at The Wire. Hope you (no pun intended) ‘will’ enjoy.
The are distinct advantages to binge watching. Basically you can set your own schedule, decide when to break for meals, sleep, and whatever other requirements life requests of you.
As opposed to watching the one at a time, once a week, week to week, structure of broadcast TV, binge watching has one major advantage, in my opinion.
It gives you a far greater sense of continuity as well as context. You can see the changes as they happen; be they adjustments in style, sets, clothing, or even how the opening on-screen title cards change over time. Plus the character specific or plot specific elements either expand or contract as newer cases and story elements occur over time. In my view they’re easier to see and notice when you binge watch.
THE TITLE CARDS: some times we get three: Wife, then The Good Wife, then created by Robert King & Michelle King. Other times there are four: The, Wife, The Good Wife, and the created by. Since I am only mid way through the 3rd season,
I can’t speak about the 6th, 5th, and 4th seasons, but I did notice that within the sample of seasons 1,2 and 3 – each year got a new set of images for the title cards.
WALL ART – very early on, I noticed in one of the offices, the poster of The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
This is one of the most famous and best-loved of all Japanese Woodblock prints. If you look closely, you can see parts of three boats or barges thought to be conveying fisherman. However one might interpret, disregarding the elements of time and place, or Hokusai’s intent, that the boats represent lawyers floundering on the seas of justice.
FILM LOCATIONS – The series is set in Chicago. There are a good number of office buildings, courthouses, apartment buildings, and other Chicago landmarks that are often visible. However, I think that most of these are simply establishing shots. And that most of the interiors are shot in a studio somewhere. While I can’t say that Chicago is only a backdrop with certainty , I can say that far too often Kalinda Sharma’s clothes look far too flimsy for the severe Chicago winters.
WINTER COATS – Is it just me, or do you think that Eli Gold’s overcoat looks too small and too tight.
TOO SMALL: This definitely cannot be said about Will’s nose.
JOE MORTON: Morton is a veteran actor of many TV series. In The Good Wife, he appeared as Daniel Golden, Peter Florrick’s attorney. Did you know, or maybe I should change that to do you remember that besides TGW, Prince Street, Law & Order, Homicide: Life on the Streets – to name just a few – Joe Morton also played a key role in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
JUDGES: As The Good Wife is about attorneys, and their cases, as well as their private lives, we must all bring in to focus that the show employs a myriad of actors to play Judges. Many of Hollywood’s best character actors have filled a role as a Judge on The Good Wife. Some of the more memorable judges include Tony Goldwyn as Judge Henry Baxter who wore blue jeans under his judicial robes, and Dennis O’Hare as Judge Charles Abernathy in 7 episodes, who I recall had the sniffles after being pepper-sprayed when he attended, as a sympathetic person, an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
Then there was the sharp-beaked Michael Lerner who presided over the Bit-coin for Dummies case as Judge Dwight Sobel. The rotund Harvey Fierstein as Judge Francis Flamm in Feeding the Rat. Peter Reigert as Judge Harvey Winter who was the Judge at Peter Florrick’s bail hearing. Jane Alexander was one of more than a few female judges on the show. As was Bebe Neuwirth, who we all loved as Lilith on Frazier, and before that on Cheers, back in the previous century.
My favorite Judge had to be David Paymer as Judge Richard Cuesta, In the pilot, Alicia Florrick’s first case in 13 years, she gets a favorable bail decision from Judge Cuesta, without saying a word. You see, Paymer’s Judge Cuesta is often a motormouth as well as a sarcastic sob. From Season 2 Episode 7 called Bad Girls:
ALICIA FLORRICK: As the lead character and star of the show, there will be multiple entries for Alicia and the actress who portrays her – Julianna Margulies. But what I loved best were the reaction shots when Margulies was simply still and absorbing what was just said. Obviously a collaborative decision between the actress, the director, the editors and the producers – the stillness was all-powerful and signaled the strength of the character. While revealing nothing to the person Alicia was with, her stillness revealed everything to us. We could always see the wheels turning, the measuring, the weighing of the import, the thought-process to create a proper response, or even shock and disbelief. The fact that this became a Margulies/Florrick trademark is easily discerned by the number of times this kind of shot was repeated.
THE SLAP: This was what we saw of Alicia before she even spoke. Her husband, The Illinois State Attorney, Peter Florrick, had been found to have committed serious issues which impacted him professionally. At a press conference at which he announces that he is stepping down as State Attorney because he’s about to be facing criminal charges, he apologizes to his wife and children. Alicia is by his side, but doesn’t say a word. In the corridor as they are leaving, Peter says: Was I alright?
Alicia’s response is to slap him across the face. Now keep in mind that this was before we knew anything about any of the characters. Before Alicia had even spoken a single word. Peter was doing a my bad, which at one time was called my mistake, and centuries before that, going all the way back to the times when ancient Latin was spoken, the phrase mea culpa meant basically the same thing. Margulies has said the when given the script for the pilot, this, the opening scene was what hooked her.
And me. And likely millions of viewers too.
SIZE MATTERS: You know the actor Kevin Conway? After watching him play various tough guys and bad guys, on both sides of the law, I appreciated his work, and thought of him as an outstanding actor. In The Good Wife, he plays Jonas Stern, the founder of Stern, Lockhart, and Gardner.
In fact it was the episode in Season One, when Alicia out smarts him in a trial by getting him to lose his concentration – that was the very first episode of The Good Wife that I ever saw. It was that episode which I watched in Late November of this year, which made me decide to take in the whole series. Having said that, I had no idea that he was so small. As a tough guy he was always acting from a position of strength – but check out the image above and below when we see that even Alicia towers over him.
KALINDA’S WARDROBE: While all the lawyers, paralegals, and staff at Lockhart Gardner all work hard to give a look of business or corporate dress at all times, only Kalinda Sharma wears whatever she wants and that is also to set her apart from every other character on the show. Those beautiful leather to just below the knee boots, the leather jackets, the short skirts, the earrings, her make up, and the occasional cleavage shot all simply just jump off the screen because she is so different than any other character.
And that’s even without mentioning, which I will do now, that she is easily the most mysterious,
the most able, the most convincing when she needs to be. She is the sex on the show. She is the jack-of-all-trades MacGuyver of the show. She keeps her secrets oh so well. It is not until episode 21 of Season Two that we find out the why behind her all of her non-admitting admissions as well as her non-denial denials. Here is an example of how Kalinda uses a non-direct response to avoid answering directly:
Alicia: Are you gay? Kalinda: I am not gay, I am … flexible
Kalinda, played spectacularly by Archie Panjabi also wins the Best Performance with a Baseball Bat category.
MOST HATED CHARACTER: Blake Calamar played by Scott Palmer
CARY AGOS: He too is often given the ‘stillness’ shot as described above. Only he more often than not changes it to a smile.
I’ve nothing against Matt Czuchry’s acting ability, but in my opinion, he always speaks so slowly and at such a low volume that it slows the show down. He’s a perfect example of Seinfeld’s ‘low talker’ subcategory ‘slow talker’.
CHRISTINE BARANSKI/DIANE LOCKHART: At first, I didn’t much care for her, and that’s after we were shown her encouraging Alicia. She has the best office, and the biggest office. She’s always the most elegantly dressed, as well as the most expensively dressed. But she was kind of a cold fish, – all business all the time –
that is until she ran into Gary Cole‘s Kurt McVeigh who put a gun in her hand as a way of sweeping her off her feet. But as the series progressed, I began to see her as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Not only did she have strategic court smarts, but she seemed adept at handling and measuring people.
ALICIA & HER APARTMENTS: Obviously not the big house in Highland Park, but still a great place. Even the furnished place she found for Peter looked like a steal even at 2800 a month.
ALICIA’s CLOTHES: While not spectacular, she pulls off the corporate look effortlessly. Her casual clothes aren’t spectacular either, but the reality is that Margulies would look good while wearing a painter’s drop cloth.
PETER FLORRICK: Despite sleeping with that hooker 18 times, Peter did not come off as a Total heel, but he was on every body’s hate list from the jump. No one seemed all that distressed when he went to jail. Especially not Alicia. Peter eventually got out of jail and eventually got re-elected as State Attorney. Which was an amazing feat, to say the least. At times, I though that the character should be called Peter Florrid.
ZACH GRENIER as DAVID LEE: While I don’t remember him from Donnie Brasco, he does make quite an impact on the show. Besides bringing in 30% of the firm’s business by himself by virtue of his high-profile divorce cases, he’s also something of the show’s comic element – at least while battling furiously with Eli Gold. Aside from being a dark presence on the series, as well as the character with the biggest ego issues, Lee has the clout and the know how to be called the firm’s rain maker, so he should get whatever he wants at Lockhart Gardner.
On the other hand, I’d like to see him in something other than those dark-colored shirts he wears all the time. Attention costume designer – could you have Lee trot over to Brooks Brothers for a white shirt once in a while.
ELI GOLD: As portrayed by Alan Cumming, one would never guess that he is a Scotsman. While another Scotsman, an actor called Sean Connery, has made an outstanding career with his Scottish accent intact, here on The Good Wife, Cumming has managed to keep all signs of his Scottish birth and heritage completely off stage. Most of the time, despite his unique skills as a crisis manager, campaign manager, and spin doctor,
Gold is annoying and too fussy for me. He’s like the character from Star Wars, C3PO only he has a phone in his hands at all times. Or we might find a different but suitable comp for Eli with Stan Laurel of, wait for it, that’s right, Laurel & Hardy.
WILL GARDNER: He’s a brilliant attorney, and a decent if nothing more than that kind of pick-up basketball player. Looks like he can only go to his left. But then again he does have his name on a law firm, and he does have the moolah, and he does get Alicia in bed. But sometimes he seems even less trustworthy than he appears. I like his gung ho, go for broke, roll the dice kind of lawyering. As played by Josh Charles, the character is likable if not heroic, super smart without being either geeky or nerdy, and he has been voted one of Chicago’s best and most eligible bachelors.
WHO IS THAT: She shows up early in Season Three, and I said, doesn’t she look a lot like Grace Gummer who played Hallie Shea on the just concluded The Newsroom.
So this actress, playing the role of Nancy Crozier, on the Good Wife, is actually Mamie Gummer, the older sister of Grace Gummer. I didn’t know that.
A) Attorney Elsbeth Tascioni played by Carrie Preston. She gets top billing in this category as the super effective yet Columbo-esque attorney. She lacks only the cigar and rumpled raincoat. B) Andrew Wiley played by Tim Guineee. The investigator who is always on the job with his young daughter who is used mostly as a prop and a distraction. We can call him the Investigator with the Baby Carriage. C) Amy Sedaris as Stacie Hall – I desire you Eli…the whipped cream girl with the annoying laugh. D) Lisa Edelstein as Celeste Serrano – she to Will Gardner – You’re not chasing me, I’m chasing you.
VISION IMPROVEMENT: Edward Herrman is 71 years old, and for most of his career, he was always seen wearing eye glasses. Now, in Season Three, as Deerfield, a high-ranking member of the Bar Association, he no longer wears the specs. Is it lasik eye surgery or contacts. Only his ophthalmologist knows for sure. [EDIT – Mr. Herrman passed away on December 31st, as this post was being written.]
FUN CASTING: Jerry Adler who once upon a time played a Jewish associate of Tony Soprano called Hesh, appears on The Good Wife, as Howard Lyman, one of the altacockers. Altacocker is a Yiddish slang expression for old man, or old fart. Literally it means old shit. But it is basically used with affection, to greater or lesser degrees.
ALICIA SMILES: Most glorious when she is most pleased. Also used with greater or lesser impact.
ONE OF MANY GREAT QUOTES:
Peter Florrick: The lawyers think the appellate court is going to hear my case. If they overturn it, everything goes back to normal.
Alicia Florrick: Peter, it’s never going back to normal.
LOST COUNT: Almost universally, each time Will Gardner, or Cary Agos stood up in court, or in an office, they would always straighten their tie, and button their suit jacket. To be honest I wasn’t counting, but in Season Three, the Episode called The Great Firewall, with Viola Walsh played by Rita Wilson, as opposing counsel, I noticed that in this episode, for the very first time, objections and counters were made by the attorneys while seated. Shocking, just shocking.
SUMMARY: I could probably continue to write this post straight into next year, but the clock is ticking down, so let’s call it a day as well as a year.
I will leave you with a look at the trailer for season One:
Thanks to my brother, who for years has told me how this was one of the best shows on TV. Advice that I ignored for years. But after watching the first two and half seasons, I’m fully on board. And ever so pleased that I am. Hip hip, hurrah and thanks for the technology that allows us to do what we all can call binge watching.
Happy New Year all.