‘Royal Pains’ now seems to have settled down somewhere between ‘Burn Notice’ and ‘House’. It’s pleasant enough, and Dr Hank’s potential squeeze Jill is pretty easy on the eye, so I’ll keep watching. But there’s not much to write about, frankly, so unless something dramatic happens that’s all from ‘Royal Pains’ for now.
‘The Good Wife’, on the other hand, keeps forcing me to revise my opinion of it upwards. When reviewing the first episode I damned it with faint praise as “well-made, fast-paced hokum”. By episode 8 I was admitting to liking it a lot, but called it “high-production-value nonsense”. I then went for “really… very good indeed” (episodes 9 and 10) and “always entertaining… remarkably consistent” (episode 17).
Actually, it’s better than all of those things. It’s got a strong claim to being the best freshman drama this season, and the way in which it consistently confounds and exceeds expectations is both refreshing and quietly thrilling. New characters have been absorbed into the show organically, existing ones have had their roles extended and deepened.
And at the centre of it all is the remarkable Julianna Margulies. For all the awards buzz about her – and an Emmy nom at the very least now looks nailed-on – her acting itself rarely gets praised as much as it should, perhaps because she’s not a showy actor in the way that, say, Glenn Close is. With Close you can see the technique; Margulies, on the other hand, quietly gets on with the business of inhabiting her character, and with every passing week as Alicia Florrick she’s getting better and better.
As is the show. In episode 19, ‘Boom’, which will be shown this week in the UK on Channel 4 (having already been on More 4), SLG is acting for Charles Clay, the publisher of a newspaper which published a provocative cartoon (with strong allusions to the Kurt Westergaard case). The newspaper’s premises were bombed and the managing editor of the newspaper was killed; his widow is suing the publisher. Muslim extremists have claimed responsibility. Unexpectedly but, I think, correctly, the show doesn’t spend too much time agonising about First Amendment rights but instead goes after the issues of most immediate relevance to SLG – who set the bomb off; why; did their client deliberately try to increase sales by inviting controversy; and, if so, is he liable for damages? And Jonas Stern is back, acting for the widow. Alicia, of course, can’t use what she knows about him. Or can she? But that’s barely the half of it: there’s intrigue at SLG as the decision on hiring and firing of new associates approaches; Alicia’s worked out why her disgraced husband is so keen to get to church and is pondering whether to get involved with Will, to the point where Peter has to – literally – decide whether to take a dramatic step.
As a drama of the procedural, workplace, domestic, legal, and political type ‘The Good Wife’ gets it right week after week, and with everyone in the cast at the top of their game it’s become unmissable.