Here’s the thing. I love The Good Wife. You know I love The Good Wife. I think it’s incredibly smart, often very brave, ferociously feminist and regularly very, very funny. And I loved a lot of things about “The Debate.” Eli’s assistant Nora. Peter kicking the Mayor’s ass via the Mayor’s assistant. Eli realising he works very hard and isn’t appreciated. Peter’s chat with Pastor Isaiah in the car. Johnny being all bashful around Alicia. And yes, even parts of the debate itself.
But – and it’s a big but – Alicia and Prady, rich Caucasian politicians, being called out legitimately by the African-American waiter watching them have their “let’s do the debate show right here!” in the hotel kitchen was, on the one hand, wryly amusing, but on the other, a little too uncomfortably meta a point to slip down all that easily. The Good Wife has proven itself to be intelligent and thoughtful on race issues before – the slow-burn sub-plot on racial bias in recruitment at the SA’s office, for instance – and there was a lot of intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning writing in this episode too. This is a show trying to explore things that need to be explored and make the viewer think about things that need to be thought about.
But, while this show has plenty of guest characters and supporting characters who’re from ethnic minorities, apart from the increasingly marginalised Kalinda, the main cast is Caucasian. (Lemond Bishop is amazing, but I’d still say he’s a guest character, rather than a main player.) This is not unique on TV, by any means, and it doesn’t mean the show shouldn’t talk about racial issues, because the only way to address racial issues is for EVERYONE, minorities and majorities, to talk about them, but it did mean TGW’s attempt to look at the issues highlighted by the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson was always going to be something of a tricky thing to pull off without coming off as, at best, patronising, and at worst, hypocritical. In the end, it all fell somewhere in between.
It felt like it wasn’t just Eli deploying Nora as a “black shield,” as the show itself rolled out the “duelling pastors,” the victim’s mother…. The irony, of course, is that this was all entirely realistic and telling the story that way made complete sense. This is what happens when terrible things like this affect one community more than another. But still: in trying to, laudably and legitimately, argue for more diverse racial representation and community engagement, the episode ended up feeling a little too meta, unconsciously or otherwise, to entirely stick the landing.