The Good Wife
CHANNEL: Network TEN
TIME-SLOT: Sundays, 8.30 pm
Australians are taking a shine to a new American television series that suggests the ideal wife is one who knows how to keep her distance from her husband’s mistakes.
The Good Wife, produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions centres on the trials – literally – of Alicia Florrick, the spouse of a disgraced politician who has returned to the law courts to provide for her family. Alicia is thrust into a world of public acrimony and personal rejection when her husband and district attorney Peter is forced to publicly admit to numerous affairs with prostitutes, and jailed for the abuse of public funds. Returning late to the work force, she now works charity cases for a high-profile legal firm. Each episode she finds herself in court with women and children who struggle in what is clearly a man’s world. And when she isn’t beating back younger attorneys and her husbands political enemies, this defender of modern-day ‘widows and orphans’ struggles to help her children adjust to their dramatic fall from grace.
Alicia is played by ER mainstay Julianna Marguilles. On the surface this is yet another in a long line of legal dramas. Yet it clearly has something to say to Australian viewers. In its first week The Good Wife earned Network TEN an admirable 1.4 million viewers nationally, rating the fifth highest viewed program in a schedule that included the Winter Olympics. More importantly, though, it scored second place with 18-49 year old adults delivering 715,000 viewers behind Cougar Town’s 817,000 – another series about struggling older women. Marguilles appears ready to join TV’s power-women set.
The Good Wife indirectly contrasts two archetypes of public life: the devoted, silently supportive spouse and the worldly wise woman. Barbara Bush vs. Hillary Clinton, if you like. The series challenges the honesty of that media-manicured ‘faithful wife’ who has played a background role in so many American scandals. In fact Alicia is encouraged by a female legal eagle to take the all-conquering US Secretary of State as something of a role model. So far the series seems to suggest that a really good wife won’t be reduced to a mere appendage of her husband. Alicia’s feelings for Peter persist but her hard-won wisdom must rule her heart.
The Good Wife is a program that could leave Christians conflicted. On the one hand it is very hard to argue against Alicia’s newfound reticence where her husband is concerned. Peter has acted deceitfully, broken their vows and continues to behave in a manipulative fashion. Yet at the same time the series suggests that any marriage that buries a wife’s outrage in the face of her husband’s failures is a charade at best, soul-destroying at worst. Alicia’s right to be and remain angry cannot be challenged. Divorce would be reasonable, even expected. The children are now her primary concern and her husband will have to do much to regain the right to be part of their lives.
There is no doubt that the situation described by The Good Wife is worthy of our compassion. Yet it pains me to point out that it still falls sadly short the Bible’s ideal. Readers of the Gospels will know that Jesus allowed for divorce to take place in the event of marital unfaithfulness like Peter’s, but he noted “… it was not this way from the beginning.” Divorce happens, Jesus told its first century supporters, when one or both hearts are too hard to take the harder road of forgiveness. Marriage is supposed to be a relationship where the individual partners achieve their greatest potential, but they do so by learning to submit to the other’s needs. Even, and especially so, in the face of failure and suffering.