Why The Good Wife is TV’s best-kept secret

"It's a really cracking American drama that gets little or no attention in Britain" says Alison Graham

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I have been disappointed by the cracking American legal drama The Good Wife only once. This was in a recent episode when the good wife herself, lawyer Alicia Florrick, served hummus at a social gathering.

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Oh, Alicia! Hummus? I expected so much better from you. Hummus isn’t food, it’s certainly not the food of focused and powerful women and men, because hummus is muck AND it stinks. What will you outrage me with next, Alicia? Sushi? Taramasalata? Or, heaven help us, tapas with its dolly-sized dishes that are meant to be (oh no!) shared. I’m with Joey from Friends on this one, when he proclaimed loudly and often, “Joey don’t [sic] share food!”

Alicia, next time we see you eating please let it be a giant Yorkshire pudding, or fish and chips deep-fried in beef dripping with a side order of mushy peas. Proper mushy peas, not those bilious green smears of goo you get in London restaurants.

But let’s not condemn Alicia to Hummus Hell. She made a mistake, she can be forgiven. She is The Good Wife, not The Saintly Wife. She is allowed to falter, occasionally.

If you are unfamiliar with The Good Wife (More4, Thursday) I would urge you to take a look at this most delicious delight, this thrilling pleasure. It’s an American drama that gets little to no attention in Britain, though it bobs along nicely with a reasonable (for a small channel) half a million viewers or so. In its homeland it’s a primetime hit, but it’s not part of any kind of cultural fabric.

It’s not the sort of thing that would demand attention from the Breaking Bad bores of this world, the kind of people who drone on about tiny shows that no one watches on pixie channels. If you’ve ever been cornered by a Game of Thrones gonk at a party you’ll know what I mean.

What will strike you straight away, if you are a newcomer to The Good Wife, is that it’s tremendously glossy. Unsurprisingly as the show revolves around wealthy lawyers in big offices, so hair shines and nails glisten and there’s a lot of Mary Portas-ish statement jewellery.

But it’s not style over substance. The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick, is so called because, in the very first series, she stood by, literally, her philandering politician husband, a rictus smile plastered to her face as her life humiliatingly fell apart in public.

Though Alicia (Julianna Margulies, who always slightly scared me as brittle Carol Hathaway in ER) took the reins of her destiny, dusted off her law qualifications and went back to work. In subsequent series, her career has rocketed and now she’s running for the political appointment of State’s Attorney (I think it’s a bit like Attorney General over here).

The great thing for many of The Good Wife’s devotees is that it’s full of super-clever women characters who are allowed just to be super-clever women characters. No one looks at the tip-top female lawyers and feels it necessary to make a big deal of it, as if they were gazing at bonobos in dresses.

he Good Wife is intelligent and adult, its court cases topical (it does a lot of grabbed-from-the-headlines tech-type things and it can even make alleged copyright infringement exciting, yes indeed). But it knows too how to punch to the gut; a major character died right out of the blue last year, and both the incident and the fallout were just so brilliantly handled that fans like me were speechless. 

I doubt The Good Wife would be made here – everyone is far too upper-middle class and moneyed, which would put the kibosh on it straight away.

And The Good Wife tends not to get her hands dirty with low-life criminals, so there’s no this-is-how-it-is seediness about Alicia’s courtroom dealings; it’s all a bit sumptuous. But as a piece of clever escapism, it’s hard to beat.

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The Good Wife airs on More4, Thursday nights from 9pm