On a soundstage in Brooklyn, the cast of "The Good Wife" is filming a tense scene for the show's fifth-season finale, airing Sunday night on CBS. Series protagonist Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) has returned to Lockhart/Gardner, the law firm she left this season to start her own practice, to be deposed in a lawsuit in which she's been framed for wrongdoing by her former colleagues.
The firm is amid a civil war of its own, with two partners, David Lee (Zach Grenier) and Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox), scheming to oust a third, Alicia's one-time boss Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). In a bid to suppress the coup, Diane is kissing up to yet another partner, the hilariously bumbling Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler), by insisting he run the deposition.
The scene, rich with both dramatic tension and humor, is typical of the CBS series, whose narrative and moral complexity have garnered it 30 Emmy nominations and a reputation as the finest one-hour series on broadcast television.
In contrast to all the fictional backstabbing in the series, there's an easy camaraderie among the cast. At the end of a take, Margulies gives Adler a pat on the arm, telling him, "That was awesome, Jerry. It was so hard to keep a straight face." As the crew switches camera setups, the cast chats amiably about the usual water cooler fare: Louis C.K.'s "Saturday Night Live" monologue, the NCAA finals, the merits of "The Lego Movie."
It's little wonder the mood on set is so cheery: "The Good Wife" is coming off what may be its most acclaimed season yet, one that brought not only the breakup of the firm but the out-of-nowhere death of its founding partner — and Alicia's on-again, off-again love interest — Will Gardner (Josh Charles).
"It feels like we had this strange renaissance this season," says Margulies, whose character has grown increasingly independent, perhaps even ruthless, than ever over the past 21 episodes. Not only did she plot to start her own firm, she also poached clients from her old friend and paramour Will. Their rift, dramatic as it was, paled in comparison to Will's sudden death at the hands of a crazed client in an episode in March.
Charles, eager to pursue other creative opportunities, had decided to leave the show after his contract was up at the end of Season 4. "I completely understood why he wanted to leave," says Margulies. "It can be frustrating for an ensemble player when you're on a show that is mainly about one character."
With help from Margulies, also a producer on "The Good Wife," creators and show runners Robert and Michelle King persuaded Charles to stick around for 15 more episodes to give his character a fitting send-off. The Kings had already been plotting the firm split when they learned of Charles' plans and decided a soured relationship with Alicia would add a layer of poignancy to his character's death.
By all accounts, the raised stakes have helped the series, which began in 2009 as a fictional take on betrayed political spouses like Silda Spitzer and Jenny Sanford, reach new heights.
"As tragic as the loss of the Will Gardner character is," says Margulies, "it has definitely fueled a new energy into the writing."
Whether the praise for this season will translate to Emmys glory remains to be seen. "The Good Wife" has been shut out of the intensely competitive outstanding drama series category at the Emmys for the past two years. Last month CBS launched an aggressive Emmy campaign that calls attention to the number of "Good Wife" episodes produced every year — 22, more than double the current seasons of cable dramas such as "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones."
On set, Margulies even voices support for FX Networks President John Landgraf, who recently complained about HBO's decision to enter "True Detective" as a drama rather than a miniseries.
"On one hand it was cool to see that [Emmys ad] and be like, 'Yeah, damn right, we work hard,'" says Robert King. "On the other hand, the bottom line is with TV, I'm pretty much just a fan."
Besides, the demanding pace of network television leaves little time to worry about such matters. The Kings have already convened their writers' room for Season 6 and are busy plotting out what lies ahead for Alicia. As Season 5 winds down, Alicia is reconsidering her life choices, both personal and professional, after Will's death.
With her son heading off to college, her marriage to Gov. Peter Florrick in official estrangement, and potential love interest on the horizon in Finn Polmar, a handsome prosecutor played by Matthew Goode, Alicia is at a pivotal crossroads,
"I wouldn't call it a cliffhanger in a true sense," says Robert King of the finale. "This is more like suggesting a new chapter."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun