We now live in the A.L. era (after Lemonade ), when Beyoncé has given a woman permission to stay with her philandering man, so long as she avenges his wrongdoing by picking up a baseball bat and obliterating the better part of a city block. It’s advice that came years too late for women like Silda Spitzer, Huma Abedin, Elizabeth Edwards, and Suzanne Craig, all of whom stood mum (and mummy-like) next to their husbands as the men apologized for their indiscretions in front of a throng of reporters. These events became so commonplace that in 2008 the Kansas City Star dubbed them “ ‘Stand by Your Man’ press conferences” after Tammy Wynette’s 1968 hit song.
That’s how we first meet Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in 2009. In pearls and a houndstooth blazer, she lurks silently next to her politico husband, Peter (Chris Noth), as he confesses to sleeping with prostitutes. That’s just the start of “The Education of Alicia Florrick,” as The Good Wife creators, husband-and-wife team Robert and Michelle King, nicknamed their series. For Alicia, this schooling has been painful at times. She has been cheated on, and wrongly convicted of stealing an election. She discovered her close friend slept with her husband, and lost the love of her life in a courtroom shooting. She has survived corporate backstabbing, NSA surveillance, and an email hack. No wonder she turned to booze.
Speaking of, at its best, The Good Wife was like the red wine Alicia was so fond of: complex, rich, and bold. The Kings knew which notes to draw out (a deleted voicemail simmered for five seasons before emerging as a major plot point this year) and when to sock us. The stellar fifth season—Cary (Matt Czuchry) and Alicia plot to start their own firm; the shocking death of Will (we still miss you, Josh Charles)—is some of the most brilliant TV ever. The show created a universe—fake companies like Chumhum took on personalities in their own right; amazing recurring characters played by Michael J. Fox and Carrie Preston, to name a few—that rivals The Simpsons in size and depth.
The Kings told EW a few weeks ago that their series will probably be remembered as the last acclaimed drama that produced 22 episodes a year. (They’re too modest to say “acclaimed”—I added that in for effect.) They’re right. Aside from The Good Wife, the last drama to pump out 20-plus episodes in a year and be nominated for an Emmy was House, in 2009. For viewers, there’s a downside to this abbreviated form of storytelling: In most cases, the episodes are filmed before the first one airs, so the creators are unable to fix a floundering plotline. The Kings were incredibly attuned to their audience and nixed story lines that didn’t work (think: the limpid S&M relationship between Kalinda and her husband at the start of season 4).
As the series ends, Alicia has evolved significantly. (When Fox’s devious Louis Canning informs Alicia that Peter is sleeping with yet another woman, she responds, oozing with sarcasm: “Were you wanting me to cry, Mr. Canning?”) The TV landscape has changed too. Because of economics and viewer demographics, there may never be a show like The Good Wife again: a non-genre series that drops Easter eggs and rewards careful viewing; a program that led the conversation on issues like cybersecurity and political graft; and a show that explored the romantic lives of 40- and 50-year-olds, but not for laughs. To the cast and creators, thanks for the good—make that great—run. Series grade: A