Justin Stephens, CBS
CBS's "The Good Wife" is an instructive show to consider as the new television season gets under way because it's an example of a program that started with a good pilot and developed into a great series.
That greatness shows no signs of abating in the second-season premiere on Ch. 2 9 p.m. Tuesday.
While some programs falter and even fall apart after their pilot episode, "The Good Wife" became a stronger series throughout its first season as the writers brought initially blurry secondary characters into sharp focus.
As season two begins, creators/executive producers Robert and Michelle King show no signs of standing pat. They're allowing the series and its characters to evolve while reminding viewers of the show's original premise: Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) watches on TV as a Colorado politician goes before the cameras for alleged indiscretions. His wife stands by his side, the same position Alicia was in a year earlier.
May's cliffhanger — will Alicia stay with husband Peter (Chris Noth), or get intimate with her law-firm boss and old friend, Will (Josh Charles)? —gets swiftly derailed with an assist from Peter's campaign consultant, the cunning Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), who later gets hit by a karma boomerang in the form of Peter's buttinski, controlling mother, Jackie (Mary Beth Peil).
At the office, Alicia's law firm merges with another firm, which introduces new characters, including a partner (Michael Ealy, "Sleeper Cell") who seems too altruistic to be true and an investigator (Scott Porter, "Friday Night Lights") who has clearly dug up some dirt on the usually unflappable firm investigator Kalinda (Emmy winner Archie Panjabi).
Politics are also at play as the state's attorney (Titus Welliver) tries to get new recruit Cary (Matt Czuchry), Alicia's former co-worker, to unnerve her in the courtroom. Watching these two square off and their ability to read the motives behind one another's legal maneuvers is like watching two well-matched tennis pros.
On the home front, Gold warns Alicia that she may be targeted by her husband's political opponents, noting: "I'm trying to keep you out of this, but it's modern politics. Wives are no longer off-limits." He's proved right in an unexpected way that feels real, both in the context of the show and the modern political world of partisan bloggers.
And that's one of the most delightful aspects of "The Good Wife": For a CBS series, it feels unusually au courant.
The show found a way to effectively blend stand-alone legal cases with ongoing serialized elements last season, and that approach continues. One of the many threads explores the state of Alicia's relationship with Peter, which takes a turn for the steamy this week after he sees her in court. There's a scene that strongly implies more than it actually shows, but it's still likely to turn off the same viewers who have told me they'll quit watching if "Alicia starts sleeping around." (Do steamy relations with her husband count?)
Those types of scenes aside, "The Good Wife" manages a near-impossible task: It puts on a show each week that appeals to the network's core older viewers while giving enough realism and character development to draw younger quality-TV devotees who normally shun the network's procedurals. That's no easy task, but "The Good Wife" makes a good case that it can be done.
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