Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Good Wife goes on summer vacation: or, the pleasures of watching a single show

The Good Wife concluded its second season last night, and the accolades are rolling in. There have been laudatory sum ups in the New York Times and Salon, among other places.

I'm a bit sad about the end of the season. For the past few months, I've been watching The Good Wife faithfully on Tuesday nights, and I've been reacquainting myself with the pleasure of keeping track of a single television show. I've never been a heavy TV watcher, more out of circumstance than out of intent; for 6 years in my 20s, I had no TV (or was out of the country and also had no TV). When I came back from India in 1995, I ended up with a TV from my grandparents' house but didn't get cable so that I only had access to 2 clear channels and 1 fuzzy one, if I moved the TV into the spot with the best reception. It was only 5 years later, when Emily and Liam sublet my apartment for a year and they invested in $5 a month "reception cable" (which Em told me I had to keep!), that my TV access expanded.

For a few years, $5 was an amazing deal--30 some odd channels, including a number I wasn't paying for. In the years since, it's become less and less of a deal--now I pay $14 a month and basically only get the networks, plus C-Span and the Home Shopping Network--but I still find myself resistant to paying more for real cable because the reality is that I really only have the time and energy to keep track of one show in real time. (What I watch while on the treadmill or elliptical trainer is another story!) This is Emily's influence as well--back in 2000, she told me I needed a TV show and suggested that I start watching The West Wing, which I did, very obediently, until the last season got tedious and then it ended; then, Gilmore Girls was my one show until that ended as well. I tried Grey's Anatomy until it got too soapy and silly, and since then, I've been floundering around TV show-less until I found the Good Wife, early in its second season.

I watched the first season in a pleasurable marathon over Thanksgiving break, caught up with the first episodes of season 2 mostly via iTunes and then finally, when I returned from India at the end of January, started making sure I was home Tuesdays at 10 p.m. to watch it. I know this is old-fashioned. I know I should have a DVR or access to On-Demand (which, alas, you don't get with $14 cable). But I don't. And given that it's only one show, I like the routine, the catching up, the time set aside to do this one thing, once a week.

Admittedly, all of the meaningful TV I've watched over the past few years--The Wire, Six Feet Under, Slings and Arrows, even Sex and the City--I've watched on DVD, some in sips, some in gulps. And there are ways that I prefer that immersion. (I loved this Sam Anderson piece in Slate about watching the final season of Six Feet Under on DVD months after the show had ended on HBO. I too was like a hysterical Victorian woman while watching the series finale.) But I like the ritual of a once a week show, not to mention the knowing what's going on in real time. (I still remember getting an email from my brother saying how sad he was when Nate died on Six Feet Under--and it was several years before I started watching the show!) (Apologies if that was a spoiler, but given that SFU ended almost 6 years ago, I think it's okay.) It's kind of fun to be current on one thing, at least.

There are lots of smarter and savvier people writing about why The Good Wife works. I'll just say that it's well-written, well-acted, sometimes soapy, often funny, occasionally sad, occasionally suspenseful and almost always interesting. I love seeing so many characters from The Wire pop up in guest roles, and I love the rotating cast of judges and opposing lawyers (Martha Plimpton, Mamie Gummer, even Michael J. Fox). I love Alan Cummings, I love Archie Panjabi, I love Christine Baranski and her cowboy right wing boyfriend. I think Julianna Margulies does a great job in the center of it all.

And then there are the recaps. Honestly, one of the new pleasures of TV now is the recaps. I love the recaps. This is maybe also why I can only watch one show--who has time to watch TV and read all the recaps too? My favorite is probably Jada Yuan's recap at New York Magazine (without which I wouldn't know that Kalinda is referred to as "sexy boots of justice" by a large online community), but the LA Times does a good one as well, and then there are the recaps on the blogs, too many to name, though Alan Sepinwall's is a highlight and one I can't find at the moment which counts how many gasps the recapper had per episode. A person could spend a lot of time just reading recaps (not that I know anything about that . . . )

Anyway, if you haven't yet discovered the Good Wife, I'd definitely recommend a combination DVD/re-run/iTunes viewing to get through the first two seasons and keep yourself entertained this summer. But when fall rolls around, settle down on your couch at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights* and watch it in real time. It will be worth it.

*I am of mixed feelings about the new time slot as it goes up against whatever is on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. It's not that I watch much Masterpiece, but occasionally I do. And if The Good Wife were up against the new season of Downton Abbey, I don't know what I would do!

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