Julianna Margulies played a lawyer in her last primetime venture, Fox’s “Canterbury’s Law,” but she’s turned the page to a more comfortable playbook in “The Good Wife.” Part legal procedural, part high-profile-betrayed-woman melodrama, the series capitalizes loosely on all the political sex scandals that began with Eliot Spitzer and continued through multiple Republicans. But the salacious foundation merely helps make the protagonist even more sympathetic as a fortysomething woman starting over as a junior associate. Positioned as CBS’ only non-“NCIS” entry on Tuesday night, this solid-and-safe entry appears to be right in the network’s sweet spot.
The premiere makes rapid work of documenting the humiliation of Alicia Florrick (Margulies), as she watches her politician husband (Chris Noth, in a recurring gig) exposed for cavorting with hookers and sent to jail for corruption. (He’s the Illinois state’s attorney, but with less-outlandish hair than the last disgraced pol from that state, and just to further confuse matters, the pilot lensed in Vancouver, but the series will be shot in New York.)
Alicia is thus left to raise two precocious teenagers alone, with the customary skepticism about this one-time privileged matron’s ability to adjust to her new life and trade elbows with hungry young corporate rivals.
Series creators Robert and Michelle King (“In Justice”) don’t scrimp on the melodrama, including a hostile judge (guest David Paymer) who had sparred with Alicia’s husband and will do her no favors in her first court case, in which she must defend a young woman accused of murder.
Nothing about the trial is particularly distinguished (for all I know it’s recycled from leftover “Shark” scripts), but watching Margulies — stately, beautiful, but showing some signs of age and vulnerability since her “ER” days — it holds together well enough. Moreover, her husband’s imprisonment and his protestations of innocence provide a potential hook beyond the rather tired procedural milieu.
Although the cast contains other familiar faces (Josh Charles as a partner in Alicia’s new firm and Christine Baranski as an imperious litigator), the series — which, like “Numbers,” flies under Ridley and Tony Scott’s banner — is clearly meant to be Margulies’ show, and she seems like a pretty solid fit for the CBS audience. The term “TV star” is sometimes bandied about loosely, but in this case, the description applies.
Granted, “The Good Wife” doesn’t win many style points for originality, but nor does it seek to squeeze into unflattering hipster clothes. And on a network where meat-and-potatoes drama has generally performed beyond merit or expectations, that’s probably a very good fit, indeed.