AMC’s “Breaking Bad” will surely appear on every Top Ten list. Furthermore, I’m sure that “Bad” will be singled out by most members of the television press as the best show of 2013.
I’m good with “Bad” -- and yet I would go with CBS’ “The Good Wife” as the Program of the Year.
It’s been a while since I have felt compelled to name a broadcast drama as the best show on television. But “The Good Wife” has been so riveting and rewarding this season that it only seems right.
The thrilling narrative upheaval that in recent weeks touched every character on the canvas and turned the show into something that was somehow excitingly new while also comfortably familiar has been well documented, and there is no need to rehash it all here. What is worth noting is that the departure of attorneys Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies, a marvel in this story line) and Cary Agos (Matt Czurchy, also great) and many junior associates from the show’s primary locale, the Lockhart/Gardner law firm (now known as LG, like the electronics corporation), has continued to resonate through every story line in every episode since the big bang. Any one of these stories (both personal and professional) would have made for compelling entertainment even if that messy split (which continues to get messier) had not occurred. But every story has one or more additional layers now, giving the show even more energy than it had during its first four seasons, when it was already pretty damn swell.
“The Good Wife” has always been blessed with one of the best primary casts on television, and the very best cast of recurring performers since “The Sopranos” -- each of them playing characters with ongoing stories of their own that light up the “Good Wife” canvas as the writers permit. The nimble handling of the recurring characters alone has kept the show fresh.
But this latest dramatic restructuring has taken the concept of revitalizing an established show to an entirely new level.
Usually, the narrative of a show has to jump forward in time (like “Desperate Housewives”) or back and forth in time (like “Lost”) to advance a stagnating story and bring it back to life. But “The Good Wife” simply continued to tell the stories it had been telling all along and has this season accomplished something remarkable without any such tricks. All of the advancement here -- all of the refreshment, or recalibration, or re-energizing, or whatever you care to call it -- has come about solely as a function of ongoing character development.
That’s also true of “Breaking Bad,” a sublime series that belongs in a category of its own, and as I said above, I certainly won’t take issue with anyone who chooses to
designate it as the Program of the Year. But “The Good Wife” wins out for me because, at its beginning, it took an absolutely ancient television genre -- the legal drama -- and made it
feel like something brand new -- and then just a few weeks ago, transformed itself into something new all over again, all the while giving all of its actors amazing new challenges to play. Every
episode since then has been filled with unforgettable scenes, but for me the one that really jumped out was the accidental phone conversation between Gov. Peter Florrick (Chris Noth, suddenly
smashing) and Attorney Will Gardner (Josh Charles, also terrific), when Peter calmly menaced Will.
I’m not sure it qualifies as the Most Exciting Television Moment of the Year -- that distinction, I believe, goes to the sequence in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” when Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons sacked the city of Astapor -- but it was just about as surprising and satisfying as anything I have seen in 2013. I can’t wait to see where “Good Wife” goes in 2014 and beyond.