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Talking new fall TV: From 'Good Wife' to Ken Burns

Let's catch up here at Z on TV with some of my other print and podcast work on the new fall network season. It should all be right here every day for regular readers of this blog, but it often doesn't work out that way. Don't get me started. I'm ready to rant.

So, here are three pieces of the fall lineup that I would like to hear your thoughts on. First, this post includes my full review of Julianna Margulies in "The Good Wife." We have all had a chance to see it now -- even on TiVo -- so what do you think? I am especially wondering how women feel about this show. And here is my preview of "FlashForward," which premieres Thursday night on ABC.

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And here's a link to a podcast I have up on Ken Burns "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," which debuts Sunday on PBS. You'll also find a podcast on Larry David's HBO series  "Curb Your Enthusiasm" there. And the production values on these podcasts are among the best you will hear anywhere online (or on the radio) because they come to us courtesy of Baltimore public radio station WYPR-FM with Lisa Morgan, co-producer of "The Signal" producing, and program director Andy Bienstock hosting the podcasts. So check them out.

Now, here's "The Good Wife" review. Please let me know what you think about this provocative series...

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By the downsized standards of network TV today, "The Good Wife" has about as high-powered a cast as you are ever going to see again: Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski and Baltimore native Josh Charles.

And with all four bringing their "A" games to the pilot, it looks as if CBS could have another winning 10 o'clock drama.

Let's be clear, however, this is not an ensemble drama. As engaging and strong a presence as Noth, Charles and Baranski can each be, this series belongs to Margulies. It is pitched to women, and it is her vehicle. She is in virtually every frame, and she absolutely shines.

Let's also quickly dispense with the opening, because while it is clever in a ripped-from-the-headlines sort of way, the series looks to be better than this attempt to give the viewer an instant docu-drama sense of being backstage as a public life comes unraveled.

The pilot opens with Alicia Florrick (Margulies) standing next to and looking dazed as her husband, Peter (Noth), prosecutor for Cook County (in Illinois), faces a phalanx of photographers and reporters after being charged with trading lighter sentences for sexual favors.

If you have seen even two seconds of any teaser clips for the series, you know the producers want you to think of the scandal that brought down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. They want you to think this series will answer the question so many had as they watched Spitzer's final gubernatorial news conference: What was going through the mind of his wife, Silda, as she stood there looking to be in such anguish?

"The Good Wife" does offer an answer of sorts. But while you can't blame any new fall series for embracing a high-visibility concept to try to cut through the premiere-week clutter, the irony is that the pilot only starts to click when you stop thinking of Margulies' character as a thinly veiled Silda Spitzer and start believing in her as Alicia Florrick. Happily, Margulies is more than enough of an actress to make that belief possible.

And once that happens, what you have is one of the most compelling female characters in prime time starting out on a journey that cuts straight to the heart of some of the most emotionally loaded issues in American life today - issues of gender, power, workplace identity, marital infidelity and economic survival.

As Peter Florrick goes to jail, Alicia heads back into the workplace as a very junior attorney. Their home has been sold to pay legal fees, and she is left with two teenage children to support.

The first leg of her journey back to work is brutal, with her barely able to crawl through a day let alone stand and compete for a permanent job.

In the end, here is what matters about this series and what I think will make it a success: It bores into gender-related feelings of anger and even rage about men betraying women, and women being forced to choose between work and home in ways that men are not.

Two scenes you will remember. One you have probably already seen in teaser clips: Alicia Florrick slapping her husband's face. The other is even more cathartic as Alicia refutes her husband's soothing words as to how everything will soon be "back to normal," by telling him in specific detail what her 14-year-old daughter saw him doing to a prostitute on an Internet video.

Save your pretty lies and fantasy talk for someone else, Peter. Alicia doesn't live there any more.

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