DVD Review: The Good Wife – The Third Season

Without having gone to any other buffet on the Las Vegas Strip yet, the best is the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio, which is, ironically, off the Strip, but still as equally considered as all the others because if you want a little break from the sometimes-frenzied nature of the Strip, you go to the Rio.

The Carnival World Buffet is what I assume I’ll find if there is a heaven when I die, the first buffet near the entrance. In fact, the first time my family and I went there on our first visit to Las Vegas in the summer of 2007, I thought I had died of some unknown cause and that this was heaven. They offer a combination steel, brick, and wood décor with soft cream colors for the walls and tile flooring. Inside some of the vertical steel pieces are blue, purple and pink circles that make you think fish should be swimming around inside them. It’s not the kind of buffet you rush through in order to try everything you possibly can before you start to feel like Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. You relax, quietly taking in everything around you, wondering how you were so lucky to get here, reveling in your good fortune.

The Good Wife Season 3The food inspires exactly the same kind of feelings. There are at least nine different kinds of gelato. The Japanese food station allows you to pile on the veggies you want, and then you tell the chef if you want chicken, shrimp, or beef, and the chef makes it all sizzle for you, cooked to the perfection you expect. You also get crab legs and sushi rolls at the seafood station, along with prime rib, smoked sausage, Mexican dishes, and still more, which are available depending on whether you’re there for lunch or dinner, smoked sausage, for example, only being available for lunch. Breakfast is of course an entirely different menu, one so far not experienced, but that will hopefully be rectified in the years to come as a Las Vegas resident. If you go multiple times, you get all different combinations of heaven. Even if you only go once, you’ll get an unforgettable experience that your relatives will talk about for years, if you’re in Las Vegas with your relatives.

The Good Wife: The Third Season is just like the Carnival World Buffet, just as appetizing, always making you want to come back for more. The clever touches begin with the DVD case artfully provided yet again by Paramount, but the cleverness falls to the writing staff for their episode titles. The first season had one-word episode titles, the second season had two-word episode titles, and this third season has three-word episode titles. One wonders how Paramount will manage if The Good Wife reaches an eighth season. You get a sense from the titles alone that this is a series with brains. Massive brains. Brains from its writers, directors, crew, and an endlessly sparkling cast.

Because Julianna Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, currently separated from her husband, Peter, who’s been re-elected as State’s Attorney for Cook County in Chicago (however, all of it is filmed in New York, since Margulies did not want to relocate to Los Angeles, and because of her demand, the series is able to tap into a wealth of theater actors who add ever more prestige to the series) after a stint in prison, the center is Lockhart/Gardner, the law firm where she works. In that office alone, there’s Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski, who’s impressive in every role she plays, and she’s found a thankfully stable home in this one, so the pleasure of her performances can be seen every week), one of the partners of the firm, and Will Gardner (Josh Charles who has always been a great actor, but becomes better and better in every episode. There’s no limit to his talent), the other partner, with whom Alicia engages in a brief relationship once they admit their feelings to each other, which happened at the end of the second season. There’s also Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), who has joined the firm as an equity partner, and has an office from which to run his political consulting business, and Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi), the firm’s private investigator, who admitted to Alicia toward the end of the second season that she had a one-night stand with Peter, therefore tearing apart their close friendship. Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry, recognizable from Gilmore Girls, successfully separating himself from that), who competed with Alicia at Lockhart/Gardner upon her return to the law in the first season, has moved to the State’s Attorney’s office, enduring a rise and fall there that makes for one of the most satisfying character arcs of the season. Will also undergoes much turmoil with Peter investigating his allegedly shady dealings, and then finds out that the Bar Association is pushing for his disbarment, no matter that what he did happened 15 years ago. There’s no statute of limitations. This gives way to his sisters (including Merritt Wever from Nurse Jackie) visiting him, and trying to push him back into dating. The season is in fact all about changes and challenges, and it’s really interesting to see Will outside of Lockhart/Gardner, even as factions within the firm strive to replace him on the letterhead, believing that a power vacuum is no good for the firm. Those factions include Eli, who also has to decide whether he wants to manage his ex-wife’s (Parker Posey, one of my favorite actresses, who reunites with Cumming after The Anniversary Party and Josie and the Pussycats) State Senate campaign.

I’m not even half done yet. Besides all this, there’s also the cases of the week, which don’t feel like cases of the week since they’re so quietly weaved into the week’s storylines. This is the business of law and so these lawyers do that business, which, on the opposite side, brings back lawyers Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox in massively wonderful performances), Nancy Crozier (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter, who’s ultra-talented in her own right) and, of course, Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton, who’s only permitted to return to the role, if she’s needed, after she’s finished with Raising Hope for the season), who’s never without her young children or malicious intent, as is demonstrated in the season finale in which she and Louis Canning team up to destroy Lockhart/Gardner at the behest of an acne medication company that has been sued by Lockhart/Gardner numerous times for bad health reactions to their products. The cases involved are only interesting enough to reveal more about the characters, and particularly well-researched. You can sense that the writers’ room of this series talks seriously about each case and never lets it go to script unless it’s fully thought out.

And the guest stars. Oh, the guest stars! Not just guest stars like Julianne Nichlolson, another favorite, whose Callie Simko dates Will later in the season, but those who play judges, including Denis O’Hare (yes, another favorite) as Judge Charles Abernathy, who begins the session in his courtroom by expressing his vehement support for Occupy Wall Street, and later has the sniffles because of the pepper spray aimed at the crowd when he was there. And there’s also Harvey Fierstein as Judge Francis Flamm, pushing zucchini bread, Peter Riegert as Judge Harvey Winter, who’s also on a blue ribbon panel with Alicia, investigating a police shooting, and Mark Linn-Baker as the wheelchair-bound Judge Linden. There’s not as much comedy with him as there was on Perfect Strangers, but enough in his dealings with Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning. We also see that Baker is getting older in a dignified manner.

The third season is a legal drama buffet, increasing the stakes for many characters, offering comedy through many of the judges, giving just enough of each character to make you want to know more, and gracefully splitting time between all of them. You’re going to want to come back again and again, and feel just as relaxed as you would at the Carnival World Buffet, confident that you got great value out of the time you spend watching The Good Wife. I had seen a few episodes of the second season when they aired, and that was enough to make me go to Target to buy the first season blind on DVD. I devoured that, but only sporadically checked on the third season when it aired, due to a recent preference for more books over television. After watching much of the first season, I’m in all the way for the fourth season. I want to see what happens next to everyone. Julianna Margulies may be the center, but she has been blessed with a cast that’s just as strong as she is, that elevates The Good Wife to being one of the great shows of the past decade, well into this one.

The six-disc DVD set can also lay claim to being one of the best of the year, first with deleted scenes offered for nine episodes, and then the previously-seen-on-CBS-before-the-start-of-the-third-season special “The Good Wife: A New Beginning,” which is actually substantive. It’s not only the actors talking about how great the series is and how wonderful their work experiences are, but it gets into the meat of what the season will be. “A Bi-Costal Affair” dips into how the production manages to work in Los Angeles and New York, with the writers based in L.A., and filming in New York. It’s a fascinating process, which is rarely done if it can be helped. Thank goodness Margulies chose it this way. The series is exemplary because of it.

“Research and Development” focuses squarely on the development of the episode “Blue Ribbon Panel,” including large chunks of mostly co-creator Robert King lecturing in the writers’ room. The questions the other writers ask or the suggestions they make show why The Good Wife is one of the smartest series on television. They are so tapped into this, so involved with these characters, that the actors likely find it easy to get into their characters because of what the writers have provided in their scripts. Most of the time is spent in awe of these discussions. That’s also because of producer and director Charles de Lauzirika, who made this featurette, and editor Marissa Cicero, who seems to know instinctively what’s important enough to show. The final featurette of the set, “Alicia Florrick at a Crossroads,” is mainly an overview of the season, what happened during it, up to the final episodes, but de Lauzirika and Cicero work exactly the same kind of magic on it that they do with “Research and Development.” The actors not only talk about what their characters went through, but also their favorite moments, which gives the greatest indication that none of what they say is for show or posturing. This is all genuine. They love what they do, which is what helps make this one of the best DVD sets of the year.

TV is generally like a buffet anyway. You have so many choices, and you can’t have everything because there’s not enough time in the day, and too much bad stuff can lead to mental indigestion. But then, while looking at what different stations offer and deciding what you find appetizing, there are shows like The Good Wife which not only restore your faith that television can still be good for the mind, but also make you ravenous for them. You don’t care that you spend hours watching them because you know that those hours have been well-spent, that you’re witnessing incredible talent that’s working hard to entertain you! They want to tell their stories, but they also want to make sure that you’re getting as much out of it as they are. Respect for the viewers as much as for themselves. When the fourth season begins, I can’t wait to go back to The Good Wife again and again. For now, I’ll go back to the episodes I missed and greedily inhale it all over again. It’s worth that kind of attention.

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