'The Good Wife' is secretly one of the best science fiction shows on television
I won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention with the claim that science fiction isn't just about spaceships and laser beams. At the height of Captain Kirk's era, the best questions for science fiction may have seemed centuries distant. But while that's less true today, the genre has only become more relevant and ubiquitous. It's a focusing tool, a way of channeling our hopes and anxieties about the future into coherent, digestible narratives. And no show on TV does that better than CBS's legal drama "The Good Wife."
Of course, on its face, "The Good Wife" doesn't seem like a science fiction show at all.
Slow-paced, understated, and centered on the career and marriage of middle-aged lawyer Alicia Florrick, the drama doesn't exactly target the "Dark Matter" and "Expanse" demo. I actually picked it up out of sheer curiosity after Hillary Clinton's remark to Stephen Colbert that she and Bill binge-watch it together; Alicia's relationship with her politician husband threads closely and unsubtley to the darker moments of the Clintons' own marriage.
Regardless of the Clinton couple's fandom, "The Good Wife" is the one of the best science fiction shows ever on television, arguably one of the better works of speculative sci-fi ever to hit big with the general public.
The show lives in something close to present time in our universe, with a thin slick of dark, surrealist futurism floating on top. Apple, Netflix, Tesla, Google, and Facebook all exist in this world, but their various mistakes and malices show up in heightened form through the device of an imaginary, multi-armed tech conglomerate called "Chumhum."
Episodes center on ripped-from-the-tech-headlines plots like 3D-printed guns, racist artificial intelligences, and self-driving cars. But the writers often find layers of nuance beyond simple rehashing. They use the courtroom's structure to examine questions raised by the pace of technological development for a mass audience, taking each real-world event and imagining its next logical step. What are the consequences when learning algorithms learn racism? When an artificial intelligence kills or harms, who's to blame? How much responsibility do we bear for the 3D-printer designs we send out into the ether?
"The Good Wife," like "The Twilight Zone" and "Black Mirror," addresses these dilemmas without getting weighed down by self-seriousness. Unsettling as the show can get, its mood is absurd, with the tech-centric plot-lines leaning downright zany.
One of the better plot-arches involves a secret NSA wiretap.
"Silicon Valley"'s Zach Woods plays an analyst who, from a frat house-like secret NSA office, gleefully peels apart the main characters' lives and exchanges screaming goat GIFs with his colleagues. The eventual courtroom confrontation between Alicia and the NSA's wall of secrecy (in front of a judge played by "Arrested Development"/"Transparent" actor Jeffrey Tambor) is a work of goofy beauty.
Now in its seventh season, this show deserves a place on the shelf (or Netflix queue) with "Star Trek" and its more similar contemporary "Mr. Robot." Through all the real-world concerns it addresses, there isn't a better or smarter fictional catalogue of this decades technological hopes and anxieties. "The Good Wife" isn't about moon colonies or space aliens, and it may target more Clintons than Trekkies, but it's still killer sci-fi.
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