Political Animals vs. The Good Wife


Two episodes of Political Animals have left me with less of an opinion on the show itself, which is a sort of feel-good trashy romp with a facade of political relevance, but with more appreciation for the narrative construction of The Good Wife.

Superficial comparisons abound. While Political Animals explicitly bases its lead on Hillary Clinton, The Good Wife uses the story of the jilted political wife to deliver a deep dive into how politics, relationships, professionalism tie in with the consistently difficult task of being a woman.

So while the story has to go through some of the same beats (the iconic image of the wife standing by the husband on the podium as he admits his faults, the horror of discovery, the complexity behind the decision to stay or leave), it's telling which beats each story omits.


The Good Wife doesn't spend a lot of time on the tears; when we meet Alicia Florrick, she's competent, she's independent, and she's completely certain of what she needs in her professional life. The Good Wife focuses on how she moves forward, not what brought her to this point. We're shown exactly why Alicia doesn't leave Peter as yet, and we realize that in the end, dealing with Peter's the lowest priority in Alicia's life, given that her whole world has come down around her. In fact, it isn't until season three that we get the scene where Alicia first learns about Peter's indiscretions.

Political Animals, on the other hand, seems totally mired in the relationship between Bud and Elaine. One major problem with the show so far is how Bud seems to have such a hold on Elaine's life, even though there's no evident reason why she would ever have loved him, why she would have stayed with him, and why she relies on him now. We're shown, again and again, that she doesn't really need him in her personal life, so allowing him back in doesn't seem true to the character.

I'll allow that few shows get off to such a strong start as The Good Wife. It almost seems churlish to compare the two: TGW is a novelistic tale that teases out very serious themes, while Political Animals aims to be trashy entertainment (and succeeds admirably). Nor should they be more similar; Alicia and Elaine, despite the surface similarities, are very different women. If anything, Elaine's more of an example of when the world crashes down on a Diane Lockhart.

All that said, Political Animals does manage to mimic my personal favorite aspect of TGW: the Alicia/Kalinda. As with that favored pair, PA features a wonderfully prickly but respectful relationship between Elaine and Carla Gugino's fabulous reporter. It seems that in this show, too, the tensions between their deeper solidarity will drive the show forward. And I can't wait to see where it goes.


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