Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On TV — Sunday Night Morality Tales On Broadcast TV

I look forward to Sunday night TV.  It’s launched by the venerable “60 Minutes,” but “Madame Secretary” and “The Good Wife” not only provide decent drama, but also bring current issues to the public with all the ethical complexities of real life.  They ask us under what circumstances would you compromise your character to achieve what you believe to be the greater good. Would you be unfair to make things fair?  Recognizing that justice and the law are often at odds, where do you come down?

“Madame Secretary” does this mostly on a macro scale.  The fate of the world depends on the actions of a modified Hillary Clinton–style Secretary of State.  We have international political intrigue, party political intrigue and within-the-party battles — all with less cynicism and less wit than “House of Cards.” How they put the drama together in such a timely way in a rapidly changing world is admirable.  Good writers.  Téa Leoni and Tim Daly lead a cadre of well-cast, highly talented actors, including Bebe Neuwirth and Keith Carradine.  Barbara Hall created the series.

“The Good Wife” plays out in micro scale by comparison.  We still have the intricacies of politics, the dilemma of lawyers in battle with justice bartered and battered by the interests of the moneyed and the powerful, but it is more local, more intimately focused. Even more than “Madame Secretary,” in “The Good Wife,” the good are not always good. Affairs of the heart are not always smart. And, as in life, and in our many elections, we find ourselves rooting for the lesser of the two evils. There is no Sunday dinner here, unlike the Reagan family on “Blue Bloods,” where serious hour-long dilemmas are brought to a satisfactory and usually optimistic close in a ‘50s redux.  If “Madame Secretary” boasts a lot of writing, acting and directing talent, that goes double for ‘The Good Wife.” Produced by Ridley Scott, the good wife, brilliantly portrayed by Julianna Margulies, struggles with honesty versus ambition in every aspect of her life. Her character is more complex than Madame Secretary’s. The stellar cast includes Chris Noth, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry and Alan Cumming. Archie Panjabi took the role of a major law firm’s investigator, Kalinda Sharma.  She was outstanding. My hope was that when she left the show, she was headed for a spin-off — a private eye with her own show.   So far, no news on that front.   Even so, the new season of “The Good Wife” remains as great as ever.

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