Thursday, April 8, 2010

Notes on Pop Culture: 'Good Wife' Stays Solid, 'Grey's Anatomy's' Parent Issues & 'Parenthood' Turning a Corner?

Good Wife Remains Solid

Okay Good Wife writers. You’ve got me.

My frequent complaint about your freshman drama has been that I’d prefer to see more scenes depicting the life of a political spouse/family in the wake of a humiliating sex scandal committed by the public official (a la the Spitzers, Sanfords, Clintons, Edwardes, et al) rather than load it up with legal procedural stuff. If I want to watch a garden variety lawyer show, I could go elsewhere. It’s not that I mind the legal cases, it's just that I didn’t want them to overwhelm the unique twist that makes The Good Wife different from other dramas.
That was the fear I had when The Good Wife seemed to be focusing more on getting to the truth about a criminal case or on how to deftly maneuver in the courtroom in order to secure a particular judgment.

But, overall, I have to say, the writers have done a good job of balancing the law and the personal life. Even though the latest episode “Doubt” – in which the disgraced, house-arrested Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) did not even appear – focused largely on a murder case, it did so in a way that was smart and intriguing by looking at the case from the perspective of the jury. Gold stars for not ending the episode in a rosy, optimistic note for Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick’s team.

Grey’s Ponders Mixing Maternity & Medicine

Mixing maternity and medicine has been a semi-regular theme on Grey’s Anatomy since day one. We’ve known from the first handful of episodes that Meredith Grey sustained emotional damage from a childhood in which her parents divorced, her father essentially abandoned her and her mother, a successful surgeon, virtually blew her off and always chose medicine over Meredith.

In a 2007 episode, Meredith was assisting in an operation on a child both of whose parents were career-oriented and hardly ever at home. As a result, the girl bonded with her nanny more so than with her own parents. Meredith remarked that people with big-time careers should just get a cat instead of a kid because the kid needs time and attention from a mom or a dad. However the lead surgeon in the room, Miranda Bailey, a new mom, took umbrage.

Years later, Bailey, who’s now a divorced mom, has had her ups and downs with the child/career thing but seems to be in a good place right now just as other characters with high-pressure careers -- Callie Torres, McSteamy, McDreamy and Meredith -- are contemplating parenthood. I explored how Grey’s has been handling the issue of doctors having kids in my weekly Pop Culture column on Mommy Tracked.

Parenthood Turning a Corner?

The first few episodes of NBC’s Parenthood – starring Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) – sadly, did not thrill me.

While I thought they’d planted some interesting stories -- working mom/at-home dad tensions, a broke divorced mom of two teens moved in with her parents, a married couple’s youngest son has Asperger’s and they ignore their older daughter who’s acting out – I wasn’t exactly Twittering and Facebooking and telling all my friends that they should be watching this show. I’ve been in a holding pattern, waiting to see if it’d get better.

My biggest problem with Parenthood has been that the problems seemed to be resolved too conveniently, within the one-hour span of the show. Here's one example: The daughter of the working mom was afraid of swimming. Her at-home dad took her to a very laid back swimming class where parents were literally holding onto the children, not pushing them beyond their comfort zone. The mom, a high school swim team star, showboated at the girl's lesson and pressured her daughter to jump into the deep end. The girl fell into the pool, struggled, then came to the surface, crying. All the other parents in the pool looked upon the working mom with icy glares. By the end of the episode, the dad showed the mom a video of the girl actually swimming and gave the mom kudos. Everything was A-OK.

In another episode, the older sister of the Asperger’s brother hid from her parents the fact that she’d been dating a boy for a month. The parents hacked into her Facebook account to glean information about the boy and even went to his house and met his parents. When they confronted their daughter, they grounded her while she likened them to agents from Homeland Security. But by the end of the episode, the daughter brought her boyfriend to a family gathering and he shook her dad's hand as her mother's eyes welled with tears. Daddy got the respect he was craving by the time credits rolled.

Child-rearing isn’t that simple and clear-cut in real life though. The issues are longer lasting and not easily remedied, so I started to worry that the show was going to continue to annoy me with these pat endings. Then there was the latest episode, which, instead of solving all the problems, laid the groundwork for some of them instead, to give them to marinate like having the divorced mom pursue a romantic relationship with her daughter’s English teacher when her daughter, unbeknownst to her, appears to have a crush on the same man. Trouble lies ahead. The working mom/at-home dad couple hit a bump when the dad admitted that the attractive at-home mom whom his wife despises hit on him. The issue wasn't really resolved.

I’m hoping that the writers at Parenthood continue to sow these potentially dramatic seeds and don't wimp out by quickly dispatching them with happy endings. If they make the characters work for it, really earn some kind of an ending, I’ll be the first to extol their virtues.

Image credit: CBS.

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