Pilot: The Good Fight and TV Retrospective: The Good Wife

Yeah, I know, I’m two weeks late to writing this. College has been leaving me exhausted and uninterested in writing here. But better late than never, right?

I think I’d probably consider The Good Wife one of my favorite TV shows. I’d definitely call it one of the best I’ve seen, although I don’t watch a lot of prestige TV so that might not be saying much. Still, I think it earned its frequent classification as “the best show on network TV,” and it’s one of two shows I’ve ever seen manage to reinvigorate itself and even possibly reach its peak after season three.

the-good-wife-cbs

Juliaana Marguiles absolutely killed it in this role.

But let’s start with the beginning. The Good Wife came about when network TV was still mostly focused on procedurals, and on CBS no less, where procedurals still reign supreme. And in some ways I think the show was strongest in its early seasons when it had to play by these procedural rules, as I remember the cases of the week being more interesting and effective than later in the show, where they got less screentime and often felt perfunctory.

I think it was season four, though, where I stopped watching the show for a period because, well, it got pretty bad. The serialized conflicts began to feel stale and the cases of the week felt pointless, and of course there was the total mess that was Kalinda’s husband.

Luckily, though, I got back on board early in season five, because that season was possibly The Good Wife‘s best. Over the course of the season the show shook up its entire status quo in a way that brilliantly intertwined the interpersonal drama and power struggle machinations that were the show’s strengths. Even the previously-staid cases of the week were more interesting since many of them now saw the protagonists on opposite sides of the courtroom.

I’m not as hard as seasons six and seven as other people seemed to be, but they were certainly a letdown after season five’s peak. Still, Lucca Quin was a fantastic character, which is impressive given the typical quality of characters introduced for a show’s final season (see Jason Crouse, who was also introduced in season seven and kind of sucked), and the show did a good job bringing back past characters for one last hurrah. I don’t think the actual end to the show quite worked, but given the show’s strong body of work I’m not sure that’s a huge deal.

So that brings us to The Good Fight, which picks up a year after the end of The Good Wife.

the-good-fight-779x400

That “hand on the neck” pose is sooo unnatural-looking.

I wasn’t totally sold on this show on paper. It had potential–promoting Lucca to protagonist role sounded awesome, and the ability to refocus a bit and shed some of the baggage from The Good Wife (Alicia’s kids, ugh!) could allow for improvement over that show. But at the same time, there was the possibility that the show would feel kind of pointless, adrift, by picking up in the same place as the show it’s a spin-off from except now without the main character.

But no, the pilot was really damn good and absolutely feels like it has a purpose. Some of it is simply due to the world we live in–an older, powerful, unabashed liberal and feminist woman, a black woman, and a lesbian as your three protagonists is pretty much a “screw you” to our 45th president–but most is outright on the strength of the writing. Diane was always a fantastic character and getting the opportunity to see more of her inner life after all these years is engrossing. Meanwhile, Lucca was one of the best things of the final season of The Good Wife and has a ton of potential as a protagonist. The pilot didn’t give a lot of development to Maia, the third lead, but she should be good as a link to the serialized plot and outsider to the show’s world.

Beyond just the strength of the lead characters, though, this is show creators and writers Michelle and Robert King at their best. The dialogue is snappy, the pacing perfect, the tone perfectly blending situational humor with high-stakes emotional and social drama. This is one of the best-crafted pilots I remember ever seeing, and I can only hope the rest of the series holds up to this level of quality.

Advertisements

TV Retrospective: Marcella and Silk

In this post I’m going to talk about two shows that I thought were good but that turned out to be pretty mediocre (Marcella) and pretty bad (Silk).

Marcella is a British detective drama from this year*; Silk is a British legal drama from a few years ago. They’ve both got fancy cinematography, snappy editing, and a general vibe of ~prestige drama~ that hides their true nature.

*It’s got another season coming, but I’m not watching so it counts as a retrospective in my book.

They also both have Nina Sosanya in them because Britain has, like, ten actors.

So let’s start with Marcella. It stars Anna Friel (who I loved in Pushing Daisies, by the way) as a former detective who gets pulled back into the job when an old, unsolved case seems to reopen. Pretty bog-standard premise and that’s the first problem of the show, is that it fails to really tread new ground. It even has a “oh no am I the murderer?” thing that lasts for a few episodes before getting resolved super anticlimactically. The one interesting thing the show does have is the main character’s stress-induced fits of rage and subsequent memory loss, but of course that goes wholly unresolved in the first season.

The show’s biggest problem for me, though, was its ending. It’s pretty standard for shows like this to have a climactic showdown between the protagonist and the culprit, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and Marcella‘s is actually really good . . . but where in most shows this is the end, resulting in the culprit’s takedown, in Marcella it results in Anna Friel nearly killing the culprit but not arresting him. He then goes free and she gets a slap on the wrist. She only pins him for the crime by finding a tiny little clue that she missed previously.

Like, what? How could anyone write that and not realize how anticlimactic it is?

It took me about two-thirds of the way through Marcella‘s six episodes to realize how mediocre it was, though, because it uses a lot of the same conventions that I typically see in better, more sophisticated shows. For starters, the cinematography is pretty decent, but more importantly it frequently uses unconventional camera angles or lingers just a couple seconds too long before cutting to the next shot. The show also refuses to use even the tiniest bit of exposition, and frequently starts showing characters far before they become relevant to the plot, often only giving them five minutes of screentime spread across an entire episode and yet the viewer is expected to follow what they’re doing.

In a better show, these tricks would make everything more engaging, more interesting, and so I figured the same was here and tried to get into it. But by the end, the unconventional camera angles were just silliness and the allergy to exposition was just annoying.

Silk is, like I said, similar in its trappings. I only watched maybe three or four episodes of the show before stopping, and the only reason I made it that far was because the show’s cinematography and editing are smart and crisp and this results in the dialogue seeming snappy.

But as I realized . . . Silk sucks. The biggest problem were the weekly cases, whose plotlines were founded entirely on characters revealing information they were hiding for little to no reason.* The most egregious example was a case where a cop was being disciplined for hate speech. Turns out he was saying it to a fellow cop as an inside joke and she took no offense (she even did the same thing to him). But she didn’t tell anyone this because . . . she was shy, I think? Like, her friend was about to lose his job but she couldn’t be assed to clear him? Come on.

*Reminds me of L.A. Noire, a video game with an interrogation mechanic that resulted in characters lying for no reason in order to provide gameplay.

There were some subtextual issues with the show, too. In the episodes I saw, the only two people of color on the show just happened to be the antagonists, and though the protagonist was a woman her agency often felt compromised by male characters making decisions for and about her without her knowledge, such as deciding to coddle her when she was pregnant because pregnant women are crazy, right? (Even if she needed coddling, the way the show went about it was just creepy.) The pregnancy, by the way, ended in a miscarriage after she got pushed and was almost immediately forgotten by everyone including herself, despite the fact that she was planning on keeping the baby.

Anyway. It’s interesting to me the ways in which these shows hid their badness from me at first. I imagine part of it, too, is that they’re both English shows; the accents really go a long way as far as the watchability and tend to make dialogue sound better to my American ears. Plus, the tricks that the shows used that made me think they were better than they were might just be things that are more common in English TV, regardless of quality.

I don’t really have a good conclusion for this post.

TV Retrospective: Smash

It didn’t feel right to start this blog any other way than by talking about Smash. Fucking Smash.

Smash-musical-drama-NBC-poster

Her?

Smash was a TV show that ran on NBC for a couple seasons a few years ago, following the production of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, plus some weird RENT-but-pointless thing in the second season. It was terrible. I watched every episode.

I don’t actually have a lot to say about Smash; its last episode aired over three years ago so I don’t remember a lot of it. I do remember that for some reason dead-eyed Katharine Mcphee was supposed to be a more compelling Marilyn Monroe than Megan Hilty (LOL, nope). And I’m pretty sure Megan Hilty was the only one on the show actually trying. Maybe Jack Davenport too but it might have just been his accent doing the work.

Other highlights: Debra Messing as a writer living an improbably glamorous life (an affair with her lead actor? Really?), Anjelica Huston as the mentor figure who’s really no more mature or wise or knowledgeable than anyone else, and some really pretty decent representation of gay men. Not that queer women seem to exist in the show, though, and there was some weird biphobia in there, too. Baby steps?

What’s most baffling about Smash, though, and what I really want to talk about, is the bizarre disconnect between how the characters on the show talked about writing and how the show itself was written. Because, you know, the show covered the development of two different musicals, so especially in the second season the topic of how to effectively write those musicals came up in the show. And the characters seemed to be pretty good writers: they understood pacing, structure, thematic material, and so on.

So it was clear that the writers of the show understood those concepts, too, or they wouldn’t be able to have their characters express them. And yet, Smash was full of insipid conflicts, shallow characterization, cliche plots, and did I mention the insipid conflict? The gulf between the writers’ theoretical knowledge and what they actually got onscreen was incredible.

An example: toward the end of season two, the characters working on RENT-a-like determine that they need a dramatic character death (a murder, specifically) to increase the tension and stakes. From the way the musical is portrayed, this is a good choice that fits it tonally and thematically.

Then, I think a couple of episode later, a moderately important character introduced at the beginning of season two is killed in a car accident. Does a random character death fit the tone of a lighthearted drama with teen-show-level conflicts? Not particularly. Did this character death accomplish anything other than making the dead character’s asshole best friend contemplate his own assholeness? Nope. It was basically pointless. Where the writers correctly assessed that a death would improve the story of the RENT-a-like, they completely missed the mark in the death on the show itself. Did I use the word “baffling” already?

. . . Okay, so maybe I did have a fair amount to say. Years later and Smash is still stuck in my craw; it might not have been any good, but it sure did stick with me.

Oh, also, there was this weird thing where one of Smash‘s characters is apparently the same as a character in Revenge on ABC:

Ivy Lynn (Smash):

  • Ended up with a problem with pills in the second half of season 1
  • Apparently overdosed in the final moments of season 1’s finale
  • Got pregnant towards the end of season 2

Charlotte Grayson (Revenge):

  • Ended up with a problem with pills in the second half of season 1
  • Apparently overdosed in the final moments of season 1’s finale
  • Got pregnant towards the end of season 2

Weird.