goodwife

I know that I often talk about (and complain about) the liberal skew of Hollywood productions. Which I think is fair, but I should also point out when they do something I would like to see more of. I had an email exchange recently about politics and entertainment which reminded me of a post I’d long wanted to write about The Good Wife. This post assumes that you have not watched the show, and don’t care to, and will have some relatively inconsequential (or predictable) spoilers.

The basic premise behind The Good Wife is Alicia Florek as a protagonists whose husband is caught in a sexy political scandal, forcing her to transition from a Stay-At-Home-Mother back into the workplace, in this case a law firm. For the most part, though, it’s a political and legal drama with Alicia at the center of it, both in court and with her husband on the political stage.

The show takes place in Chicago, which means that almost all of its politics are going to be skewed to the left. Along these lines, it would have been easy and inconspicuous for conservatives to be notably absent and their view either unrepresented or poorly represented and liberal perspectives to be embedded in the show across the board. For the most part, this is how the show ran for the first few seasons. Though even early on, there were exceptions and indications that they weren’t going to stick with that formula.

The show had (basically) three elections over its run, with almost all of the participants being Democrats because Chicago. In all but one race[1], the Floreks found themselves up against somebody running to their left. This served to moderate the Floreks, comparatively speaking, as they pursued white and/or centrist voters[2]. This lead to a decent plot thread wherein a member of the Florek family figured out that they were targeting the white vote specifically against his black opponent. But it introduced a degree of ambiguity that served the show well.

Sometimes shows with politics to go out of their way to make all of the bad guys Republicans[3]. They managed to avoid that by recognizing that when they needed an unexpected racist that it might be better to make him a progressive liberal that everybody in the office looked up to. Little things like that matter, especially given “Family Values Republican actually a sexual deviant” is more a cliche than a twist, at this point.

They also introduced Kurt McVeigh (no relation), a reasonably well-developed rightwing character. He was introduced as a ballistics expert, but became the romantic interest to Diane, the most liberal character on the show. Setting aside political preferences and such, it interwove liberal and conservative characters in a way that I would really like to see more of. It’s not just about having different perspectives represented, but it makes for more entertaining television when everybody in the room doesn’t share the same basic orientation.

Where the show really hit its stride in this regard was in the later seasons, when I think they were running out of ideas to keep the show going. Among other things, they brought in Oliver Platt as a conservative character who hired the firm and used Diane to bounce ideas off of. This lead to a great episode where they talked about RFRA and gay wedding cakes. Platt and company talked about the prospects of a cake baker, and eventually isolated a wedding planner as the best case to find and bring suit. Diane, who fell squarely on the side of gay couples, got the last word. But nonetheless it was well done. And from there, Diane went on to help one of Platt’s intermediaries with a PP Video case that she viewed as a First Amendment issue, much to the chagrin of everybody else at the firm.

Though the above may give a faulty impression, The Good Wife falls squarely to the left, on the whole. But impressive-to-me, they never let that get in the way of telling a good or interesting story. I have multiple motivations for getting on my soapbox on the subject, but the most basic reason I want to see more variety is simply because it can make better stories that way. The legal aspects of The Practice were better than Boston Legal simply by having Helen Gamble (Laura Flynn Boyle) on the show[4]. This doesn’t just apply to legal and political dramas (for those in particular, a skew usually makes narrative sense and there is only one skew they can pull off), but more or less anything where politics is likely to come up.

[1] The exception was the Illinois Governor’s race, wherein Peter was running against Maura Tierney, who was running to his left, and then a general election against Matthew Perry, who played an ideologically nondescript Republican.

[2] Everything in this post is a simplification. They actually spent more time pursuing the black vote, with Peter forming a bond with a black preacher, and so on. But there were two plot threads wherein the Floreks pursued voters that at least some participants were uncomfortable with. Peter’s dogwhistling and later Alicia’s run against a rumored-to-be-gay David Hyde Pierce.

[3] One example, The Event, had a protagonist president and an antagonist vice president, so what were they to do? Why, they decided to make it a unity ticket. That way, the president could be a intimated Democrat and the vice president a Republican. Presto!

[4] Boston Legal did have a couple of conservative characters, but more as foils than anything. Denny Crane was crazy, and Brad Chase was ineffectual. It was – until the end, anyway – better than nothing, but it was what it was.


Category: Theater

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

14 Responses to TV Politics Done Right

  1. Kolohe says:

    “Matthew Perry, who played an ideologically nondescript Republican.”

    This seems to be his thing. He played one on the West Wing, and you gotta think Chandler voted for Giuliani every time he could.

    • trumwill says:

      Your Chandler/Giuliani comment reminds me of another positive case: The Mindy Project. They worked in Dr Castallano being a lover of Giuliani and a hater of deBlasio very naturally into a character where it absolutely fit.

  2. Murali says:

    There are some shonen anime series which are in some ways right of centre*.

    Two examples are:

    The Demon Lord is a part-timer and I couldn’t become a hero so I reluctantly decided to get a job.

    The first is I think the decidedly darker. The demon lord Satan**, who united all the demon clans and nearly conquered all humans on Ente Isla, when confronted by the hero Emilia Justinia, escapes with the demon general Alsiel through an interdimensional portal and finds himself in 21st century Tokyo with little of his powers left. To survive he gets a part time job at McDonald’s.

    The second is more light hearted and features our main character who was training to be a hero, but drops out of hero school when the demon lord who had been terrorising humanity for ages dies. In order to survive he becomes a shop assistant at a magitek appliance store (think of a consumer electrical store but with magic instead). It has its darker moments, but the overall treatment in at least the anime series is rather light. The light novel version as far as I know hasn’t been translated.

    *They manage to defend a position right of centre namely capitalism by making the enemies be some version of nationalist/fascist/military industrial complex. i.e. further to the right.

    **Apparently a common name among demons.

    • Murali says:

      FYI, the second series has gratuitious amounts of male gaze (to a level that is exploitative or would be exploitative if this were live action)

    • trumwill says:

      One anime that I am fond of is Gunsmith Cats. It’s largely unremarkable, except two things:

      (1) The villain was a state senator running for mayor. This is noteworthy because it’s a perfectly logical political transition in the US and they got it right. A lot of American shows get this sort of thing wrong.

      (2) The state senator favored gun control for nefarious reasons. I’ve never seen that in any plot anywhere else.

  3. RTod says:

    More a meta comment than about The Good Wife: A lot of the time when posts like this complain that certain viewpoints are not being championed enough because they are conservative or Republican, it does some unintended damage to conservatives and Republicans.

    • trumwill says:

      It’s a complicated issue and I quite admit that Republicans are big part of the problem, even if not the whole problem.

      But it’s a problem.

      • RTod says:

        But it’s a problem you make trickier without intention.

        “This TV show has black villains and says white people are the heroes — so it’s conservative, and we need more of that” is one of those things that risks conveying something kind of ugly I don’t believe you mean to convey about conservatism, never mind Hollywood.

        Guns are similar: Basically, 99% of movies and TV shows that have guns in them portray guns in a positive light. (Other than Dr. Who and McGuyver, I’m seriously at a loss for a TV show that has good guys vs. villains where the good guys don’t rely on guns at least part of the time to solve problems.) So when you take the few instances that show gun owners as crazy or maniacal and say “that’s the conservative” when you don’t make that observation about the 100 other heroes with guns people cheer for, then I — again — think you are saying something terrible about conservatives when you think you’re saying something pointed about Hollywood.

        • trumwill says:

          Well sure, those are some bad arguments. The positive examples in this post don’t (I don’t believe) fall into that category. I know you’re not commenting on TGW specifically, but it was actually part of my aim when I wrote this to explain what I mean when I talk about wanting to see more. A lot of people think it must mean a 43-minute lecture on God and Country. And for some it may, but my own views – and the views of a lot of people I know – are considerably less ambitious. Others still like to go around and proclaim everything with a semblance of conservatism (The Simpsons, Iron Man, etc) as “fundamentally conservative.”

          In the gun case, someone making that argument would definitely need something stronger than using a gun. If he’s using a gun while citing Reagan, maybe. Or if there is a history with a particular show or writer and this is a part of a pattern*. A more specific pattern than “Hollywood hates us.”

          It also helps if there are some positive portrayals to go along with the negative ones that aren’t rare exceptions. For gun owners, there is. For evangelical protestants, maybe less so. (Devout Catholics run the spectrum, though.)

          * – One example along these lines I can think of is a debate about a comic book. It involved a drunk hunter trying to kill a baby deer and acting reckless. Some conservatives on the Usenet forum complaints about it. Others, including some hunters, said “lighten up, that’s just a bad hunter. He doesn’t represent all of them.

          The writer of the comic book, Peter David, came onto the forum and said basically clarified his belief that hunters are terrible people and he thought his portrayal of this terrible class of people was perfectly fair. After that, became harder to read David in quite the same way when he touched on issues and politics. (Still read him, though. Great writer.)

        • RTod says:

          I think we’re arguing at the edges with one another, perhaps.

          For example, my experience is that people of faith are by and large treated as almost caricatures of good, decent people in TV and movies — if anything, they’re a little one-dimensional in how Good they are.

          Where it starts getting into the “we aren’t treated well” tends to be with characters that are both religious AND flawed, and the fall in Hollywood in that case is usually either bigotry or (in the case of televangelists) greed. And again, there’s this thing conservatives do where they see 10 good baptist characters who are non-bigoted and it doesn’t show up as a religious conservative character, but then there’s the one that is bigoted and the argument is that THAT’S the one that’s conservative, and they should be painted with a more sympathetic brush. So you have all these kind, loving, brave or whatnot religious characters that get written off as being “liberal” and then the much rarer villains which tend to be seen as conservatives BY conservatives.

          I know that isn’t what anyone involved is trying to do, but I think it’s what happens anyway.

        • trumwill says:

          Catholicism has it pretty good. It’s portrayal is rich and varied. good, bad, liberal, strict, devout, fallen. (Though, to be honest, the whole “lapsed Catholic who only goes to talk to his childhood priest for secularish moral guidance periodically” has run its course.)

          Protestantism… is really lumpy in its portrayal. There are lots of reasons for this (including what I believe to be the gravitational pull towards Catholicism when religion is needed), but it’s kind of there. Or not there, as it were, and the religious belief and alignment typically just assumed. I do like Episcopalianism being so well represented, though.

          I mentioned to Saul that Judaism seems like it might be kind of lumpy as well. Lots and lots of Jewish characters (like Episcopalians, kind of disproportionate to the population), but very little in the way of religious observance and most of the instances I can think of it portrayed in motion it’s kind of unflattering (Exception: Numb3rs). It’s possible there that I overestimate religious activity among the Jewish, however.

          To tie in with the OP, TGW actually does religion decently well. It avoids anything right-of-center as far as that goes, but does a pretty good job where it does tread (Alicia the atheist who can’t be too publicly atheist, Peter who struggles to find religion, and the daughter who found lefty evangelism).

        • I recall an episode from Friday Night Lights when one of the characters has (briefly) converted to an evangelical version of Christianity. The episode shows a revival-type meeting that in my opinion captures the appeal of that type of Christianity and in a non-condescending way that’s hard to do.

          As for Tod’s point about people focusing on the one venal baptist and not the 10 good ones: I’d say both the one and the ten are caricatures. (Ned Flanders is a good guy and the Simpsons as a show seems to treat him with some affection even as it lampoons him, but he is still being lampooned and that lampooning seems to be settling on him as a type and not a dynamic character, but your mileage may vary.)

          So I could see someone consistently objecting to both types–the venal and the good–though I do see why one who objects only to the venal one is not being consistent or sincere. To be clear, even if they object to both types, perhaps they’re still falling into the unintentional trap Tod describes. Not all the characters in a show can be dynamic. Sometimes caricatures and flat character types are necessary.

    • Murali says:

      Do black and feminist complaints that academic reading lists do not adequately represent women’s or afrocentric viewpoints do unintended damage to women or people of african origin?

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