It doesn’t do to take too much to heart when you’re a television critic. You form attachments, of course, but things come and they go. Yes, well, whatever, it happens. Move along to the next thing, there’s nothing more to see here. Feel free to start singing Windmills of Your Mind at this point if you wish…“round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…”
Ah, but American legal drama The Good Wife is different. When it started here in 2009 I didn’t pay too much attention, but eventually I drifted in and then I stayed. It ends for ever, after seven series, on More4 tonight.
I’ll acutely miss The Good Wife, about a wronged political wife (Julianna Margulies) who stepped from her husband’s shadow to become a tip-top lawyer. Not just because it was a rare thing, an intelligent adult drama with newsy, current themes (government surveillance, gun control) and which had the most fantastic women characters, but also because it feels like the end of something wider and more profound. Really, The Good Wife is the last drama of real quality from a mainstream American channel that’s available to everyone here and there.
Big, expensive, headline-grabbling American dramas – House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Orange Is the New Black – are available only on boutique or subscription channels where, if you’re greedy, you can watch them all at once. The Good Wife, well, we’ve savoured that for an hour every week. You might have wanted to see more, but hard luck, you had to wait. They were fun, there were some good cliffhangers and the anticipation was sweet. Ironically, its proposed spin-off series won’t be on a major network.
I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the days when you watched then waited. I grew up with some proper American classics – The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the Chuckles Bites the Dust episode from 1975 is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Please seek it out, at least the bit at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral where Mary dissolves into giggles)… Hill Street Blues of course, which will never grow old… Lou Grant (which I adored to distraction because it was set in a newspaper office run by Mary Tyler Moore’s boss, the titular grump Lou Grant)… then later NYPD Blue, Murder One… you get the idea.
The fact that I can still remember them now with such fondness, and how they have stayed with me, is surely an indication of how good they were and how lucky I was that they were available to me.
Mainstream American television now is largely a stodgy soup of reality shows – The Voice, America’s Got Talent – copies of our own formats – Undercover Boss, MasterChef, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – and comedies that aren’t very funny (apart from The Big Bang Theory). Good dramas? Nah, you have to look in the thickets for those.
It’s a shame that communal experiences of the “who shot JR?” type are long gone. Fans of The Good wife will remember how we clustered together in horror at the death of a major character in season five, and had to wait until the following week for the full fallout to carpet us in sorrow.
So the fellow feeling of sadness at the last-ever episode will be the final time we can share anything. It’s a worthy ending, too: there’s no great fan-pleasing moment, just a last sequence of surprising but thoroughly fitting brittleness.
As I’ve said, this was always the most adult of dramas, whose characters were flawed, sometimes deeply, and where sometimes, things didn’t work out. And that was fine.