Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Female Lead & the Her Ensemble (The Good Wife and Parks and Recreation in Recap)

There’s this excellent scene in The Good Wife season finale which straddles the line between drama and comedy, but is effective nonetheless. The vestibule of Lockhart/Gardner is filled with an already awkward quintet of Peter, Alicia, Will, Eli and Cary when a cagey Kalinda makes her way off the elevator and Eli quips, “It’s a surprise party for you.” I’ve noted the ability of the Kings and their writing staff to deftly handle the ensemble of The Good Wife from episode to episode in a manner which seemed to appropriately serve all characters well, but that scene is such an excellent depiction of how much of The Good Wife depends on the cadence of its ensemble.

When The Good Wife started out in 2009, September it seemed to a be a show with a singular focus – the wife of the state’s attorney returning to work as a lawyer in an expectedly uncongenial professional climate whilst trying to navigate familial issue. It was the story of Alicia Florrick and Alicia Florrick alone and it was the same with the pilot of Parks and Recreation in April, 2009. Three years later, while still keeping its major premise in focus – a woman struggling to achieve success professionally and personally – both shows have managed to move hone in on their goodness by relishing the importance and the benefits of a well-rounded supporting cast. Both shows this year, even with specific focus on their female leads have devoted as much energy to ensuring that the supporting players are given adequate opportunities to develop.

It seemed like Robert and Michelle King had shifted the focus from Alicia’s plight to larger office concerns in the first few episodes of The Good Wife’s first season. From the system investigation into Will’s past, the burgeoning revelation that Diane Lockhart just might be the only adult in the firm and Peter’s quest for re-election. But, as much as the show has now moved from being that of a singular woman’s plight it’s important to note how – eventually – everything reverberates to and around Alicia. The final shot of the season with Kalinda poised for combat is effective for Kalinda and her past being intriguing on their own inasmuch as the problems they’d foster with Kalinda’s own relationship with Alicia. And, even for someone who’s too often ho-hum on Alicia Florrick the season’s insistence on revealing the difficulty of “good” ethics to Alicia has been a marvellous one from Wendy Scott-Carr to Celeste Serano all the way through Mike Kresteva.

It reminds me, a bit, of Leslie Knope’s own struggle with remaining ethical and triumphing. Season 4 of Parks and Recreation was a bit atypical from previous seasons with Leslie’s quest for political office began at the season’s end and ran all the way through the year. As early as episode 9 – “The Trial of Leslie Knope” we’re faced with the ethics debate as Ben and Leslie must address their romantic relationship which conflicts with their professional one and as her campaign expands and she meets her resolutely unethical rival in Bobby Newport, it’s a nice hook watching Leslie debate the tenuous line of ethics with herself.

With the endgame of the City Council results firmly in view Parks and Recreation was moving towards a decisive conclusion which despite the ostensible focus on Leslie emerged as something for the entire ensemble. Ina sub-arc that was addressed multiple times (best in “Citizen Knope”) the office revealed that the campaign was a team-effort, a reimbursement of sorts, for all the times Leslie has been a real-life Wonder-Woman, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from The Good Wife (and less a complaint, and more on observation) it’s the union of characters. I suspect that the decision to move Cary back to Lockhart/Gardner is as much for plot development as it is for strategic issues. It makes for good drama to have Cary at the State’s Attorney’s office but it prevents Czuchry from being fully utilised. With Will’s distrust of him, his non-feelings for Kalinda and his new-found respect for Peter, his re-introduction to the firm only allows for more effective, dramatic ensemble moments.

And, as we look forward to new seasons for both shows with political manoeuvrings playing a big part in both Alicia and Leslie’s lives I expect the focus on our female leads to be as significant as the machinations which stem from their relationship with their peers. True, both shows are devoted to their female leads, but they’re just as much invested in their ensembles. As it should be.

The Good Wife, Season Grade: A/A-
MVP (Main Cast): Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi
MVP (Guests and Recurring): Zach Grenier
Best Episodes: “Executive Order 13224” (Episode 7); “What Went Wrong”; (Episode 11); “Alienation of Affection” (Episode 12)

Parks and Recreation, Season Grade A
MVP (Main Cast): Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt
MVP (Guests and Recurring): Kathryn Hahn
Best Episodes: “Born and Raised” (Episode 3); “Pawnee Rangers” (Episode 4); “The Trial of Leslie Knope” (Episode 9)
How have the last year for The Good Wife and Parks and Recreation shaped up for you? Are you enjoying its focus on the ensemble? Who was you MVP?


Ryan T. said...

Fantastic write-up talking about both show's finales and their season at large. It's no accident these two will YET AGAIN make my top 10 TV shows of the year and it's really because the ensemble is just so well-rounded and well-utilized. With that said, picking an MVP is obviously difficult. Your picks are unimpeachable. So I'll go another direction and pick Christine Baranski and Adam Scott. For guests... Anna Camp and Patricia Clarkson.

Squasher88 said...

'The Good Wife' and 'Parks and Rec' continue to deliver the goods. I have no arguments with your MVP choices. I gotta give a shout out to Aziz Ansari though. I think he's awesome.

Squasher88 said...

Although it's hard to choose favourite episodes of The Good Wife I would have to go with the final 2 episodes because they showcase Archie Panjabi's great acting.