Looking back at how the hit legal drama changed TV for women

By Carey Purcell
Updated May 05, 2016 04:00 PM
Justin Stephens/CBS

The title alone makes you think twice. Upon first hearing the words “the good wife,” the phrase sounds like a reference to the Stepford Wives era of the 1950s. But, after seven years on air before concluding its run May 8, Robert and Michelle King‘s complex and complicated television show The Good Wife has demonstrated that being “good” is anything but simple.

The legal drama has followed the life of once-happy housewife and mother Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), who was thrust into the public eye when her husband, State’s Attorney Peter (Chris Noth), was caught with a prostitute, lost his job and was put in prison. Re-entering the workforce after spending years at home, Alicia finds herself in the mist of political and personal drama and tragedy – and in the middle of reinventing herself and building a new life as a woman in her 40s faced with new independence and opportunities.

It’s safe to say The Good Wife passes the Bechdel test. While the show has contained numerous romantic plot lines – some of them involving Alicia herself – it has also introduced some of the most fascinating, complex and strongest female characters in primetime TV. The women, whether they are lawyers, lovers, law firm clients or merely civilians, have never been relegated to the sidelines while important events are taking place.

Below, we break down just a few of the women who were a part of the complicated world of The Good Wife.

One of the most complicated and fascinating women on television, Alicia Florrick is impossible to describe in one or a few words. But if you have to pick one word, Alicia is a survivor. She has been cheated on, convicted of political corruption, survived the death of the love of her life and had her emails hacked, among other trials and tribulations.

She’s also a female character, over the age of 40, returning to work in the wake of a huge scandal that has rocked her family to its core. Audiences have watched Alicia survive betrayals by family members, her best friend and her loved ones and learn to embrace her own power in the office, the government and romantic and sexual relationships. And when she gets star-struck and googly-eyed upon encountering feminist icon Gloria Steinem, that’s just a bonus.

That hair. Those boots. That woman. Hit network dramas are not often noted for their diversity, and, with Kalinda, The Good Wife embraced so many aspects of diversity in one fascinating character. Archie Panjabi introduced audiences to a liberated bisexual woman of color on a network legal show. Take a moment to absorb that before moving on.

Tightly buttoned – or zipped-up – in her endless array of leather jackets, knee-high boots and sleek buns, the private investigator with a very private past is a fascinating woman and her relationship with Alicia through the first two seasons was one of the best portrayals of friendship between two adult women on TV. Kalinda’s interactions with Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and her ongoing relationship with Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) also offered unique insight into a woman with a troubled history as she went through her days quietly trying to protect and save the people she loved.

One of my favorite recaps of The Good Wife stated, “Diane appears to wear pajamas made out of silver. This is appropriate attire for Diane; I have no further comment.” No further comment is really needed, but I’ll try to do my best.

Diane kept getting better and better, and she was pretty fantastic to begin with. Brilliantly brought to life by Christine Baranski, this unmarried, childless, second-wave feminist whose only photo on her desk shows her posing with Hillary Clinton, seemed to be at the top of her game when the show began, as the partner of a high-profile law firm. But when chaos began to swirl in The Good Wife, Diane fastened the clasp of one of her many chunky necklaces and stepped straight into the chaos to smooth it out, without a strand of hair getting misplaced in the process. After losing her business partner, she immediately steps into the range of fire at the law firm she helped build, attempting to rise above the cutthroat backstabbing and keep the business going. When she recognized how impressive a lawyer Alicia had become, she reached out to collaborate rather than compete. And when she surprised herself by falling in love with a man who was the opposite of her on-paper ideal, she married him – guns, photos of Sarah Palin and all.

Geneva Pine
A lawyer at the State’s Attorney Office, Geneva Pine, played by Renee Elise Goldsberry, provided a formidable opponent for both Alicia and Diane in the courtroom. Almost always dressed in a sharp suit with the sleekest ponytail known to mankind, Pine was a determined and dedicated professional woman who never fell into the stereotypes of African-American women that are commonly portrayed on TV.

Alicia’s blueblood mother-in-law, brought to properly powerful life by Mary Beth Peil, brought an enlightening perspective from another generation – seemingly, another lifetime – into Alicia’s life. Living vicariously through her son, Jackie brings her own special kind of complications into the Florrick family. Fiercely protective of her family and extremely concerned about its image, and willing to go to any length or level of manipulation to protect it, Jackie is an imposing foil to Alicia.

The Good Wife‘s series finale airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.