The Good Wife: “Alienation of Affection”

This feels like something that’s been observed before, but I haven’t heard it enough: The Good Wife is TV’s truest heir to the Aaron Sorkin mantle, in the best possible way.

I’m not sure why this only clicked in my brain after watching “Alienation of Affection.” Maybe it was David Lee sauntering into Diane’s office in the Gilbert and Sullivan get-up. Maybe it was the confident way this episode, like so many of the show’s best, throws the audience into the weeds of fairly complex subject matter and expects you to keep up. Probably it was David Lee in the Gilbert and Sullivan get-up.

The Good Wife: "Alienation of Affection" - Zach Grenier, Christine Baranski

The most obvious defining factor of the Sorkin style is his dialogue, of course. While The Good Wife may not match the lyrical rhythms of rhetoric that Sorkin’s scripts achieve at their best, it’s nevertheless as verbally acute a drama as we have going. But I’m actually thinking of a different common strength: a palpable delight in human intelligence.

Animating all of Sorkin’s best works—from Sports Night to The West Wing to The Social Network to, yes, even those few glimmers of quality in Studio 60—is the way they relish watching hyper-competent professionals who love what they do. Their greatest joy (in many cases, their only joy) is sinking their teeth into knotty problems, winning by outsmarting the smartest people in the game. It’s of a piece with that snappy dialogue: the characters’ mouths are in overdrive because their brains are even more so.

It’s the same for the denizens of Lockhart Gardner, and the State’s Attorney’s office, and the various other corners of the Chicago justice system The Good Wife visits. Supremely talented, sharp, composed people doing their best against the toughest problems society can throw up. Whether they succeed (usually) or fail (refreshingly, on occasion), it’s the stuff of potent drama.

Other notes: 

  • Seriously, how spectacular is that Gilbert and Sullivan outfit? Not to mention Christine Baranski’s and Julianna Marguiles’s reaction shots. Perfectly played.
  • Carrie Preston’s return as the disarming Elsbeth Tascioni kicks the whole “Will getting investigated” arc up a notch. She is the perfect foil for Wendy Scott-Carr; I anticipate a full-on faux-sweet Thunderdome.
  • Cary continues to own. Few characters on TV pull off his level of calm self-possession without seeming like a smug ass, and Matt Czuchry really doesn’t get enough notice for his work.
  • I got all the way down here without realizing the Josh Charles connection in my Sorkin analogy. Weird.

Originally published at The Vast Wasteland, Jan. 10, 2012.

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