Sunday, October 05, 2014

TV: The Good Wig, The Bad Show

One of the most overly applauded TV shows on network TV is headed for a major backlash and neither the show runners nor the network appears prepared.

CBS' critical hit The Good Wife has been flirting with disaster for some time and season six may be when the backlash begins.

The show's not being helped by being paired with the hideous Madam Secretary which apparently exists to try to sell the worst policies of US President Barack Obama (the ones he carried over from the Bully Boy Bush administration and amplified).

Some at CBS feel series star Julianna Margulies harmed the show with her revelation last season that when she plays Alicia, she wears a wig.  Margulies hair and appearance have been endlessly praised by the press and, as one CBS exec put it, "Now men [and some women] who had the hots for her picture her as balding or worse."

Most viewers would pin the ruin on season four where Archie Panjabi's Kalinda saw the emergence of her estranged husband Nick (Marc Warren) showed up.   The storyline was disgusting.  Hana Riaz (Southern Discomfort) summed it up in one sentence, "She also falls prey to a shocking portrayal of domestic violence as so unbelievably hyper sexualized in season 4, they had to axe the story due to public discontent."

A strong woman was reduced to not only a victim but one who got turned on by being abused and was sexually attracted to her attacker.

As the backlash built, show runners Michelle and Robert King rushed to TV Guide in October 2012 to insist the story would be wrapping up but their remarks really didn't indicate that they grasped what

Were you surprised about the reaction to Kalinda's story line?

Robert King:
Speaking for myself, I was and looking back at it now, I probably shouldn't have been. I think I was because I always feel like Kalinda is this thing we can go out on a limb with. I think a) people just don't want Kalinda to go there, which I think is a worthy response that I never thought of and b) I think that it was pushing buttons that are not really healthy buttons to push, which are about domestic violence and dominating men and things like that. I thought it would come across as Kalinda was giving as good as she got, but it's not coming across that way.

Michelle King: Speaking for myself, I was surprised that there was resistance to the story line. The part that did not surprise me is that no one is saying negative things about Marc Warren's performance. Everyone is agreeing that he's doing a fantastic job portraying character, in fact maybe so fantastic that people are upset that Kalinda would be connected to that.

Yeah, look for the silver lining, the domestic abuser was liked for his acting.

Robert showed more awareness than his wife but note that he reduced the glamorizing and sexualizing of domestic violence to the "b" point when, in fact, it is what outraged viewers.

Six months later, the show runners still refused to face reality when Jace Lacob (Daily Beast) interviewed them t the end of the season and raised the Kalinda storyline:

Given the backlash to that storyline, did you read that at all as a suggestion that perhaps operatic plots don't work well within the show's narrative framework? And did that reaction shade the way you approached the back half of the season in terms of tone?

Michelle King: I don't think it was about it being operatic. I think it was very specific to not wanting to see the Kalinda character seem vulnerable or taken advantage of, rather than a tonal issue.

Robert King: My answer would be yes, there were tonal issues. With some of it, Michelle is right and the other part is the operatic thing. We used that as a fake-out in the second year, where you think this could be an operatic solution to Kalinda, but it turns out to be something very prosaic, which is that she slept with Peter. We didn't give ourselves the same kind of fake-out here. It was diving into the operatic headfirst and that may have been a mistake. I think we pursued theme over plot, and that was probably a mistake.

Again, the storyline glamorized and sexualized domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse is widespread in this country and The Good Wife -- a series whose show runners see themselves and the show as leftist and progressive -- was sending a message to men, "Beat up the woman in your life and she will be turned on, you will have hot sex and she will feel bonded to you."

The fact that they couldn't grasp how offensive the storyline was goes a long way towards failing to grasp how non-Whites can see the show.  Kalinda, for example, is often  written  racist caricature and not as a real character.  And Alicia's continued hostility towards Kalinda (and the Kings insisting repeatedly, year after year, that the friendship between the two women is over) also is offensive.

Is she really pissed that Kalinda is one of the many women her husband slept with years ago, years before Alicia and Kalinda left or is it that Peter slept with a woman of color?

The show doesn't have a good track record with characters of color.  Adding Taye Diggs to the cast has really only underscored how, for five seasons, the most prominent African-American character has been a drug dealer.

15 episodes into last season, original cast member and male lead of the show Will (Josh Charles) was killed off.  There was no effort to replace Will in the remaining seven episodes which has left The Good Wife feeling like Lipstick Jungle if all the women of that NBC show hated or mistrusted one another.  Chris North, as Alicia's husband, has always been a guest star and not a regular and this season, they made the ridiculous decision to send Cary (Matt Czuchry) off to jail.  And the ridiculous decision to have him call out to sometime lover Kalinda for help and have her just, as Dionne Warwick once put it, walk on by.

All of this piles up on last season's offensive ending to a storyline.

Why in the world do the Kings think they're cute by screwing the audience?

Alicia, her law firm and her husband were targeted by the NSA, they were illegally spied upon, the NSA passed on information about Alicia's clients to the police and FBI.  There was no need for this storyline unless you were going to be honest about it.

Barack has allowed illegal spying of American citizens.  He has allowed it.  He has repeatedly lied about it and the evidence whistle-blower Ed Snowden provided and the brave reporting by journalists such as Glenn Greenwald have allowed the truth to come out.

To do this storyline and then provide Alicia with a get-out-of-spy-free card?  All it took was Peter calling Senator Bill Nelson (unidentified but he is the Democratic senator out of Florida) and, boom, Alicia is no longer spied upon.

It was a cop out and made an already overly privileged character seem even more out of touch with the real world.

Alicia was supposed to be like the viewers but a little better off financially.

Now she's strikes many as being as fake as the wig the actress wears.

And the thing that's really going to harm the show is the racism.

Not the racism of the show, but the racism of the entertainment industry.

August 25th, Margulies won her second Emmy for playing Alicia (she also has an Emmy for playing Carol on ER).  Did she deserve it?

It's always an iffy thing, saying an actor deserved an award.

But here's what's known.

The Emmys have handed out Best Actress awards since 1950 and every winner, including Margulies, has been a White woman.

Margulies was competing against Kerry Washington.  Washington is not just an African-American actress, she's the first one to headline a successful hour long show.  And it's not just a ratings success, Scandal is a show that built on season one's ratings and then built on season two's ratings.  Season three saw Washington take the show to new heights.

And yet the award (again) went to Margulies.

Alicia did take to her bed when Will died.  So Margulies tired performance did vary a little in that she did a few scenes on her back.

Otherwise, it was the same performance she's given every season.  It's not that different from Carol, her character on ER.

But she got a second Emmy for the same performance in what many believe should have been Kerry Washington's year -- in what many believe should have been an African-American actress finally winning the Emmy for Best Actress.

The negative on Kerry, in the industry, was that Scandal was a prime time soap opera.

Like the soap opera Dallas?  The one Barbara Bel Geddes won the Best Actress Emmy for playing Miss Ellie on?  Or the soap opera thirtysomething that Patricia Wettig earned two Best Actress Emmys for?  Or the soap opera Damages that Glenn Close won two Emmys for?

Or the soap opera that is The Good Wife?

What has CBS served up for six seasons with Alicia sleeps with her boss Will, thinks about leaving her husband, instead leaves Will, works to push Jackie (her mother-in-law) out of her life, works to punish Jackie, has clients falling in love with her, tells her husband their marriage will be in name only . . .

If that's not a soap opera, what is?

The reality is that Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, et all changed TV forever.

Hill Street Blues was one of the first non 'soap operas' to grasp the changing landscape.  Goodbye Lou Grant and other MTM hourly productions which served up a single story an episode and hello to continuing elements from episode to episode.  It's how you keep an audience.

And these days, even procedurals work in continuing elements and season long plot points and storylines.

If you're a drama or a melodrama airing these days -- on cable or network -- you're pretty much a soap opera or a "serial."

History was made last August when the undeniable Kerry Washington was prevented from becoming the first African-American to win the Best Actress Emmy in the academy's rush to award Julia Margulies with a third Emmy.

"What a wonderful time for women on television," Julianna said gripping the award for dear life.

A wonderful time for White women, for Anglo White women.  Sofia Vergara's accomplishments on Modern Family have still not resulted in an Emmy win.

The racism in the industry is appalling.

Kerry Washington gave an amazing performance all season long, she brought in more viewers for her established show, and she did something historic.  But the continued racism of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made Kerry a non-winner.  No non-White Anglo woman has ever won an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama.

Two have won for Best Actress in a Comedy.

Seven nominations for playing Louise on The Jeffersons resulted in one win for Isabel Sanford and America Ferrera won once for playing the lead in Ugly Betty.

These are not statistics to be proud of.  African-American women in supporting roles on sitcoms, for example, are pretty much a TV staple.  You're more likely to see a woman of color in a supporting role on a sitcom than any other way on American TV.  Yet only one African-American has won Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Jackee for 227.

African-American actresses have faired best in the Emmy competition for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama with Gail Fisher winning once for her role as Peggy on Mannix, Alfre Woodward winning   for playing Doris on Hill St. Blues, Madge Sinclair for plying Empress Josephine on Gabriel's Fire, Mary Alice for playing Marguerite on I'll Fly Away and, again, Archie Panjabi.

For over 60 years, the Emmys have been handed out and the best women of color have done was in the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama with five wins.

In a world where Kerry Washington more than deserved an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama, did Julianna really deserve the Emmy last August?


And her refusal to note Kerry in her speech goes a long way towards explaining why the backlash is building. You don't have to be a racist to benefit from racism.  And you don't have to be a racist to be targeted with a backlash.

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