A GOOD Spinoff Is Coming To Network TV!
(Which Gives Me A Reason to Gush About The Good Wife Again)
For those of you who haven’t read my blog for long, I consider The Good Wife one of the pinnacles of television achievement. Every year it was on the air, I put it on my top ten list, usually at the one or two position. I ranked The Good Wife and its spin-off The Good Fight as the best collective series of the 2010s, ahead even of the collective world of Breaking Bad. One of my biggest bugs about the Emmys from 2012 to 2016 was that they always found a way to nominate Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey for Best Drama, but never nominated The Good Wife after Season 2. The fact that they chose to ignore it for Best Drama in 2014 — after one of the greatest seasons in TV history, completely with one of the most shocking deaths in the history of television — is a testament to the willful blinders the Emmys put up towards network television. The fact that This is Us managed to break into the Best Drama category after The Good Wife was over — yet Game of Thrones was still on the air — is a snub that I will never forgive (though in a way, I think the creators may have been poking fun at it ever since)
Because The Good Wife was by far one of the greatest and most consistent works of television at any time in history. It gave life into the courtroom drama, which had been stagnant at the time, revitalized with political pertinence that shows like House of Cards only occasionally hinted at, and was sexier than anything that Shondaland was putting on the air at the time. That it did all of this with some of the greatest blends of drama and comedy since the early days of Aaron Sorkin may be one of the reasons that myself and my mother would watch the show week after week, and why my father — who found much of Peak TV hard to fathom — could watch reruns and enjoy them as much as any of us.
One could compare the dialogue to and style of writing to that of The West Wing and you could see characters from each world working in the other — Eli Gold and Diane Lockhart would have fit in fine at the Bartlet White House, and you could see Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler campaigning for Peter Florrick. But while The Good Wife had a similar sense of idealism that you found in The West Wing, it was always being tempered by compromise. Not just politically, but sexually, legally, and morally. I could (and would willingly) give countless examples of this, but perhaps the best one involves the recurring character of Lamont Bishop.
Bishop was a well-known Chicago drug dealer who was also a community organizer. (A critic I admire once called him The Good Wife’s Stringer Bell, and while I think he was equal parts Bell and Avon Barksdale, it does hold up.) Early in the first season, Bishop came to the attention of Will and Diane, and because of the firm’s perilous financial straits, even though they were well aware of how he earned his money, they were not in the position to turn away his business. Throughout the series, the lawyers who represented him (there were several changes in the firms name) clarified their representation of Bishop by saying they only represented his ‘legitimate businesses’. Always left unsaid was that the attorneys were ignoring where the money to finance these businesses came from, something that the series never let the viewer or the characters forget every time Bishop became more and more pursued by the law. In the sixth season, one of the partners was eventually arrested because the DEA believed he was complicit in their criminal activities. (Bishop would go to prison but eventually resurface on The Good Fight determined to prove that he had reformed, and Diane would continue to represent him still aware of his past transgressions and with no proof that he had changed.)
Under the leadership of Robert and Michelle King, two of the greatest showrunners to work in Peak TV, The Good Wife remained appointment television until its controversial ending in May of 2016. While some might not be able to overlook the involvement of Chris Noth in the key role of Peter Florrick given all the charges against it, and some might consider it a relic of the Obama era of politics (something the series repeatedly referenced throughout its run) I still thought it holds up remarkably well in syndication and reruns. Throughout my lockdown one of the my great pleasures was a nightly rerun of the series on cable.
The Good Fight a spinoff that followed immediately after the 2016 election is a harder nut to crack. More surreal and more bizarre at times, it nevertheless kept the similar balance of humor, drama and political resonance. The tone became more surreal at times (I’m still not sure what to make of the sidebars in Season 3 and so much more that follow) but with Christine Baranski at the head, and an equally superb cast that filtered regulars from the original series with proven talents such as Audra McDonald, Delroy Lindo, Rose Leslie and Michael Sheen, it remains another work of art that was just as inexplicably ignored by the Emmys, this not even acknowledging it for acting awards as the Emmys allowed in later years.
I have always admired the Kings work outside of The Good Wife’s world. Braindead, a brilliant political satire that, in hindsight, was about six months ahead of time was a criminally ignored series that died in the summer of 2016. And the brilliant masterwork Evil (featuring Mike Colfer, Lamont Bishop himself as well as Michael Emerson as a man who is basically the devil’s acolyte) masterfully crosses between genres the Kings couldn’t explored in the political world while remaining just as much as part of the real one. But I must confess that a part of me has always wished the Kings would be will to create a series of spin-offs just for The Good Wife. Their Chicago would be so much more interesting than the one Dick Wolf has created. I’m actually going to suggest three potential ones for them in the off chance they consider them based on characters within the world of The Good Wife before I get to the point:
A series on Kalinda Sharman: Archie Panjabi deservedly won an Emmy for her work as the brilliant investigator whose other major skill was to seduce anyone who was walking — even if they weren’t gay at the time. There was so much mystery about her character and when we got a hint of what might have entailed in Season 4, the backlash was so instantaneous that the writers abruptly dropped the storyline. I’d like to see what’s happened to her since she left the series in Season 6. I’d settle for a prequel series. Anything Panjabi was far sexier than anything Shonda Rhimes ever did. I stand by that.
A series on Eli Gold: In a series where everybody had such brilliant things to say, Alan Cumming could express so much with just a single eyebrow being raised. He was a razor sharp political operator with a first-class mind, but he never understood a single thing going on in the marriage of Alicia and Peter. You got the feeling in Season 3 that there might have been the potential for a show about him as a crisis management operative. And in the last season of The Good Fight, Cumming was more than willing to reprise his role. Let’s let him and his wonderful eyebrows back.
The rise of Lamont Bishop: Considering how much success Starz is having with its Power universe, why not do a similar kind of series for the story of Lamont Bishop? We got hints of his universe throughout the series, let’s see what he did to go from drug dealer to ‘legitimate businessman’. (And while we’re at it, let’s see if we can get the back story about the cheerfully creepy attorney who managed to persuade things to go his way. Wallace Shawn does not to be around.)
I suggest all of the spin-offs as possibilities because last night, a spin-off was announced — and not just any spin-off. One that I told my mother every time this character appeared that I’d love to watch a series around.
The Good Wife had one of the greatest backbenches of recurring characters than any series since — well, The West Wing. The judges had infinitely more character than any of the ones we ever saw on Law and Order. The figures who kept emerging from the DA’s office in Cook County were always marvelous from Titus Welliver’s Glenn Chiles to Akoni Noni Rose’s Wendy Scott Carr and so many more. Hell, the clients the firm kept representing were always fun — I’d love to see a show where Dylan Baker, who played Colin Sweeney, a billionaire whose lovers kept dying in front of him, ran his own reality show. But the best recurring characters were the show’s attorneys. And while I’d love to see a show where some of the opposing counsels had their own firm, there was one character who every time I saw her, I basically jumped with joy.
When Peter Florrick’s case was being handled, he was originally represented by a character played by Joe Morton. Morton was busy with other commitments and halfway through the first season, he left. (The joke was his character had been tapped to work in the Obama White House.) His new attorney was Elspeth Tascioni, played by Carrie Preston. The moment I saw her, I fell in love.
Elspeth seemed to be a screwball redhead with some form of ADHD. She seemed easily distracted and scatterbrained. Like so many of the attorneys on this show, it was a front. When she walked into the courtroom or in any legal setting, she was still a scatterbrain, but to quote Will Gardner: “She’s Rambo.” And she was. After she managed to get Peter out of prison, the series kept bringing her back once or twice a season, usually for three or four episodes, always to help a major character out of a crisis. (Preston was a regular on True Blood most of the time The Good Wife was on the air; accepting her Emmy for Best Guest Actress in 2013; she thanked ‘her True Blood family for letting her go.”) Her cluelessness had a way of luring everybody into a false sense of security and she managed to get Alicia, Will and Eli out of legal predicaments that could have ended their careers. Naturally, in the final season when Peter was facing jail time they called on Elspeth, but things went south — so they used her husband who was in a way her soulmate.
Preston is one of the great talents in television history and I tend to love watching her in anything. Like her husband Michael Emerson, she is a brilliant character actress. (When Person of Interest was on the air, it was revealed that before the action of the series began Emerson’s character had been in love with Preston from afar. One of the nice things about the ending was that the show ended with the two of them being together.) I wanted a spinoff for Elspeth every time I saw here, and it is possible the Kings had one in mind except Preston was already engaged. In 2017, she became a regular on the undervalued TNT dramedy Claws, as one of the workers under Niecy Nash in a Florida nail salon that becomes a front for drug dealers. Preston’s character was not far removed from the one she played on The Good Wife, but in that case she had a far lesser grip on reality.
Well, with the end of Claws Preston’s schedules has opened up and with The Good Fight now over, so have the Kings’. And so it was with elation, I learned that a planned pilot for CBS in the fall of 2023 is Elspeth with Preston as the lead. The summary as the latest is listed as ‘an astute but unconventional attorney utilizes her singular point of view to make unique observations and corner criminals with the NYPD.” This may not seem like the most obvious transition for her character, but having watch Preston work over the years I have little doubt that she could be this generations Perry Mason (Raymond Burr, not Matthew Rhys) as there’s no character who has a greater possibility of fooling anyone to a false sense of security than Elspeth. I’m pretty sure that if there had been a real suspect, the Zodiac Killer, the Cleveland Torso murderer, and the second gunman would have all confessed, almost without knowing they were doing so. Hell, some of them might even say thank you when they were finished.]
In addition to my other joys, I’m also glad to see Preston, who has been a great talent as a supporting player and guest star in some of television’s greatest series, finally get a series that she can lead. And I know that the Kings will do her justice, they are the best writers of female characters working today (Shondaland and her circle do not come close). It’s also a joy to see them come back to CBS where they belong.
All things considered this is wonderful on every front. Broadcast television is getting a great series, The Good Wife is getting another spinoff, and perhaps scariest of all, I apparently have the power to get a network series on the air. I’ll try to use my powers for good. To prove it, to the Kings I’ve given you at least four new ideas for spinoffs. Trust me, I have more.