The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 7
Anatomy of a Joke
When Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was cancelled, the conventional wisdom was that part of the reason for its failure was that it was a show about a brilliant sketch comedy program whose sketches ran the gamut from awful to "I am watching the death of comedy" bad. Characters on the show would spend most of every episode talking about how brilliant, cutting edge, and messianic Matt Albie was, how he was the greatest thing that had ever happened to the sketch comedy format...and then we would see one of his sketches that amounted to a pretty bad Nancy Grace impression. I'm not saying the sketches killed the show (which I like, but freely admit exhibited Aaron Sorkin's worst tendencies for self-indulgence and also seemed to think that an anagram was the height of obfuscation), just that when a drama tries to do comedy, it can quickly find itself in a sticky situation.

Its strange to find "Anatomy of a Joke" plagued with comedy problems when The Good Wife is actually a fairly funny show for a network procedural. Yet so much of this episode is bogged down in bits of stand-up comedy that are so painfully unfunny they distract from the plot and destroy its authenticity. This would be bad if the case of the week, in which stand-up comedian Theresa Dodd (Christina Ricci) is sued by a network for baring her breasts on a late night talk show, and can only make the case go away by convincing the FCC not to fine the network, was an interesting one. But its fairly dull, which leads to an A-plot that is boring when it isn't mind-boggling. Ricci is horribly miscast as a stand-up comedian, and the episode continues to rely on her to be funny on the spot in ways she is clearly ill-suited for. We are at least treated to the return of Burl Preston (F. Murray Abraham, always fun, though not at his best tonight). From a legal perspective, its easy to argue the network doesn't have damages before the FCC has issued a fine (Will eventually gets there, after Preston argues their loss in advertisers is offset by a corresponding boost in their ratings), but even so the show seems quick to back Ricci into a corner that never feels particularly earned. Diane and Will seem to take as a given that Ricci will be forced to pay $2 million in damages pretty much immediately mostly because the plot demands it, and the firm seems to quickly drop all pretense to advocacy in favor of forcing a woman who is grating at best and offensive at worst to argue for herself.

The bright spot in this otherwise fairly dismal story is Cary, who finally gets a moment in the spotlight after having been under-served for most of the season so far. We meet his dad (John Shea), who he apparently hasn't spoken to in five years. The story is rough around the edges (what a coincidence Cary runs into his Dad right as his Dad needs him, right?), and its something we've seen a million times before. Cary throws out some lines that take the angst way too far ("I only needed one call on my birthday!"), but its been so long since we saw him take center stage, and all the material around him was so much weaker, that it barely bothered me. Plus, the story centered itself nicely in the scene where Alicia and Cary reminisce about their initial misgivings toward one another, and subtly, about their changing perceptions over time. Watching their relationship develop over the years has been a pleasure, and little moments like this that remind us of the history between them, are always appreciated.

Then there's the weird, out of nowhere sexual tension the show tries to drum up between Cary and Theresa, which doesn't even remotely work. She kisses him in front of an FCC commissioner, which seems counter-intuitive unless the idea is to show she is still unstable after the death of her mother, and when she leaves, the show wants us to feel things between she and Cary are unfinished, when at this point I just never want to see Ricci's character again. The two had no chemistry, and there was no reason this episode needed romantic undercurrents. All this accomplished was to muddle a story about Cary's relationship with his father and make Theresa seem even less like a real human being than she did before. I find it unlikely that Cary is attracted to the barely hung together shamble of plot points that is Theresa, and even if he is, that puts the show on a path toward another mess of a storyline just as Kalinda starts to climb off of Basic Instinct Island. Please forget this weird, sexual tension subplot, The Good Wife. I'm begging you.

Over on the political side of things, Peter continues to have problems with his totally trumped up sex scandal, with a reporter asking about a Brazil-shaped birth mark on his penis. The scandal is getting pretty boring, and the revelation that Maddie and Peter's accuser have been in cahoots since before she announced her candidacy is...interesting, even if a bit confusing. So are we to understand that Maddie threw money at Peter, and trumped up a fake scandal so she could get angry about throwing money at him all as part of a plan to...run for Governor herself? This would mean her plan was basically to fund her future opponent for a little while, then torpedo him? Or did she just give him money and then decide to make up a scandal? The time line is confusing here, and whatever her motivations are, it isn't clear that they make sense. But let's put a pin in this for the moment until we see where the plot is going.

Laura Hellinger also returns, having left the JAG and searching for a job in Chicago. Her return is a pleasant surprise, and if the show wants Amanda Peet over in the ASA's office, that's fine by me. The most interesting part of this is the clear quid pro quo in the Florick marriage, where Alicia basically agrees to handle "Brazil Penis-Gate" (we're calling it that, right?) in exchange for Peter hiring Hellinger. The dynamics between Peter and Alicia continue to develop in interesting ways, but let's pin this as well, seeing as it all came down to one little moment tonight and may amount to little more than evidence that Peter isn't as done with Chicago-style politics as he thinks.

Finally, Clarke tries to sell the firm to Preston, in a plot line that also seems to come out of nowhere. We've been developing a "Clarke cares too much" story, and I am invested in the idea of Nathan Lane sticking around and getting involved in the firm's affairs. But this seems like a step in a very weird direction. So...Clarke cares so much about Lockhart Gardner he wants to sell it to Burl Preston? I liked the idea of Clarke as uneasy ally, but "Anatomy of a Joke" seems to have shifted him into antagonist mode very quickly and for no apparent reason. Anytime David Lee gets to show up and out-maneuver someone is fine with me, but this, like most of the episode around it, didn't really jibe with the story we've been watching until tonight.

"Anatomy of a Joke" is a mess. Its case of the week is misguided, poorly cast, and kind of dull, and every subplot takes a strange left turn for no apparent reason. Oh, so we get to learn about Cary's troubled relationship with his father...and his fetish for intense, unfunny comedians? Right, so Peter has a new political opponent...who is a lesbian? No, wait, she's just really bad at political scheming? Or...maybe she's a secret genius so far ahead of Eli that we can't see her plan yet? And Clarke, good old Clarke, he just wants to help out the team...by throwing Will and Diane under a bus and selling off the firm? If I had my way, this episode would be erased from the show's history entirely, and I hope most of the left turns we saw tonight are really just feigns. The Good Wife is either stalling for time in a serious (and sort of confusing) way, about to make a series of terrible decisions, or just whiffed this week and will move on in all the right ways over the next few episodes. I really, really hope its the latter.

Grade: C


-"It rhymes with bits."

-"You were told the show would be delayed due to a football overrun?" LIKE THIS SHOW IS EVERY WEEK.

-"Damn those terrorists and their paperweights."

-"People aren't mean. They're just polite liars."

-"I don't do outrage well these days." "How 'bout laughter?" "That...would be easier..."

-"Do you mind considering her?" "I don't. Do you mind talking to the press?"

-"Unfortunately, they enjoy intrigue more than they do making money." This is funny and true. But I enjoy intrigue more than them making money too, so let's get intrigue-y!
Tags: The Good Wife
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