Cover Story

'The Good Wife': Spring TV's Best Show

The CBS drama tops our list of the season's best programming

CBS, Tuesdays, 10-11PM

Tensions are running high on the Cook County courthouse set of CBS' The Good Wife today. ''Reasonable doubt?'' asks Josh Charles, who plays power attorney Will Gardner, punctuating every syllable for emphasis. Alicia Florrick, his co-counsel and the show's central character (portrayed by ER alum Julianna Margulies), sits at the nearby defense table with a stoic look on her face, deep in contemplation. ''What exactly,'' Gardner continues, ''is reasonable doubt?''

The question of doubt, clearly, isn't meant only for the jury, who'll later decide the fate of a college girl accused of shooting her sorority sister. Here, ''Doubt'' — also the title of the April episode of Wife that is shooting on this chilly February day in Brooklyn — doubles as a personal query for the beleaguered Alicia, who is once again at a crossroads in her life. Specifically, she recently welcomed — or rather, allowed — her disgraced husband, former Illinois state's attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), back into her home after he was caught with a prostitute and incarcerated on corruption charges. Did she do the right thing by not divorcing Peter? Should she have let him come back? Does she even love him anymore? And how do her recent, increasingly romantic interactions with her boss Will — who continues to rail on about the nature of doubt to the jury — factor in? What does it all mean, exactly?

For one thing, all this doubt provides a boatload of delicious, transformative, in-the-crosshairs drama, leading fans to gravitate toward the freshman hit in droves — an average of 13.3 million viewers each week. Not only is there the intrigue surrounding every aspect of the Florrick marriage, but audiences have also wedded themselves to Alicia's journey back to the workplace at Chicago law firm Stern, Lockhart & Gardner. Since she'd taken 15 years off to be a wife and mother, Alicia started phase 2 of her career at the bottom of the lawyerly ladder, meaning she now has to compete for one junior-associate position against twentysomething Cary Agos (Gilmore Girls' Matt Czuchry) during a six-month trial period, which is nearly up (expect a decision by the season finale in late May). But Alicia's found some help at the firm. In addition to her old law-school pal and potential love interest Will, she's encountered two female allies, enigmatic private investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) and tough-as-nails partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski).

The Good Wife has proved itself unique in that it gives viewers the best of both worlds — acting as a case-of-the-week procedural drama (with open-and-shut stories every episode) and also stirring up engrossing serialized drama courtesy of the tabloid-worthy personal lives of Margulies and Noth's contentious lead couple. While Margulies says she was originally worried that doing a procedural drama might get boring — ''One of the reasons Murder, She Wrote was on for so long was that America loves an ending after each show, where you can solve it and it's done'' — she and the rest of the cast have been pleasantly surprised to see CBS continue to ask the writers to keep the Florrick family drama front and center. ''You'd expect a network to say, 'No, no, no! More cases! More cases!''' says Robert King, who created and executive-produces the series along with his wife, Michelle. ''Our biggest challenge is figuring out how little we can tell about the courtroom case and get by.''

One way the show keeps it interesting is by infusing both risqué stories and quirky details into the legal and familial story-line mix. For instance, the seemingly typical courtroom case mentioned earlier concerns not only a sorority shoot-out but a threesome as well (that's right — a ménage è trois on CBS!), while a February episode featured Cary hilariously tripping on psychedelic mushrooms. Finally, allow us to enter into evidence the show's breakout star, Panjabi, whose Kalinda lurks around Chicago crime scenes in supersexy thigh-high boots and leather, leaving a trail of erotic mystery in her wake thanks to her ambiguous sexual preference. ''I love the idea that there's not just one episode dedicated to her where we learn about her backstory,'' says Panjabi. ''You will learn more about her, but gradually.''

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