Fall brawl: It'll be no contest when The Good Wife faces off against DesperateHousewives
I saw the season finales of both shows this week, and if viewers have any sense, The Good Wife will find a much bigger audience while Housewives will at last be put to rest.
The Good Wife's season finale was near perfect, with a suspenseful court case (a loving husband and father falsely accused of murder) and — spoiler alert — a much-awaited coupling between the two lead characters. As fans of the show have come to expect, the episode unfolded with panache, as Will (Josh Charles) shelled out $7,800 for a presidential suite (the only room available at the hotel) but couldn't get the key to unlock the door until Alicia (Julianna Marguiles) figured it out.
Add a nifty elevator scene — a kid pressed buttons for all the floors, making for a humorous/romantic delay to the top floor — all to the tune of Mika’s “Any Other World," and you have this year's most memorable season ender.
When I heard the premise for The Good Wife upon its debut last year, I wasn't impressed. The ripped-from-the-headlines idea — philandering politician's daillance with a hooker is uncovered; his wife returns to work while he heads to jail — seemed tired and predictable.
But one night last summer, I was mindlessly clicking through the remote during a night of repeats and stumbled upon the show. After five minutes, I was hooked.
Each episode has a case-of-the-week theme, as most CBS procedurals do, but that's only the half of it. While the neatly-crafted whodunits are fun to try to figure out, the best part of each show is watching Alicia attempt to balance a complicated work situation with a complicated family life (two impressionable teenage children, a disapproving mother-in-law and a husband who wants to continue the marriage).
The series could have coasted a bit during this second season but instead blew everything apart with a shocking revelation that Alicia's best friend at work (the marvelous, sexually ambiguous Archie Panjabi) had once slept with Alicia's husband (the marvelously oily Chris Noth). It all sounds like a sordid soap opera on paper but plays surprisingly real.
And in the finale, it produced the quote of the night, which seems especially relevant coming after Arnold Schwarzenegger acknowledged his love child this week. In the episode, the party chairman acknowledges Alicia's importance to her husband's career. "Without her, he's a john who overpaid for a prostitute. With her, he's Kennedy."
The supporting cast, particularly Alan Cummings and Christine Baranski, and periodic guest stars (Michael J. Fox as an inventive trial lawyer who uses his disability to gain sympathy in the courtroom, Martha Plimpton as a shady insurance adjustor, Mamie Gummer as a lawyer who pretends to be naive) are uniformly stellar.
Desperate Housewives was an instant hit when it debuted in 2004 and helped turned around ABC's prime time fortunes. The core cast (Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria) had an easy rapport and the farfetched plots nevertheless had a ring of truth about the hypocrisy of suburban life. Who could forget Longoria's affair with her teenage gardener in the first season?
But the show grew tired long ago and, in its seventh season, has run out of interesting plot lines. Among this season's ridiculous scenarios, Hatcher's character works as a soft-porn actress on an Internet service and desperately needs a kidney after being injured in a neighborhood riot while Huffman's character has marriage problems after her husband gets a well-paying job (which most people in this economy would be happy about).
Longoria, who has a flair for comedy, attempted to bring dramatic pathos as a sexual abuse victim in this season's finale. But there's one big problem with that plotline: Housewives can't decide if it wants to be a drama or a comedy and Longoria has major failings as a dramatic actress.
Vanessa Williams added a dash of interest to the just-completed season as the neighborhood's newest resident, but she is far underused. Creator Mark Cherry has said that this was intended to be the final season but now plans to extend the series two more excrutiating years. There's talk that Susan Lucci might join the cast, but even the soap opera veteran can't save this mess.
Last year CBS had a huge success when it moved Big Bang Theory from Monday to Thursday nights, successfully challenging NBC's comedy lineup, and hopes to strike paydirt again by doing the same on Sundays with Good Wife.
You know what show I'll be watching.