We’re a little more than halfway through August, so I think it’s safe to pose this question without being pelted by virtual tomatoes: is there a Show of the Summer? If you like gritty crime dramas or disgusting feet, you might suggest HBO’s The Night Of; if you’re a malicious h@ck3r or you’re invested in auteur theory, you’re probably leaning toward Mr. Robot’s serpentine second season. Netflix’s breakout hit Stranger Things can make a case out of precocious children, John Carpenter synths, and the Winona Ryderssance. The Olympics boasts the best characters — Simone Biles! Usain Bolt! The well-endowed pole-vaulter! — and a ready-to-watch spinoff in Brazilian Crime Story: The People v. Ryan Lochte.
But I’d like to propose a write-in candidate. My show of the summer isn’t streaming on Netflix or Amazon, and it isn’t wrapping up an eight-episode run on HBO, either. It actually left the screen for good in May, when its 156th and final episode aired on CBS. It fuses the best qualities of procedurals — economy, consistency, sublime one-off guest stars — to complicated plots and anti-heroes as compelling as anyone else on screen during serial drama’s Silver Age. It offers its fans action, romance, and outfits somewhere between Law & Order and Cersei’s King’s Landing collection. It’s The Good Wife, and the best thing about it is that no one in my immediate virtual vicinity is watching it.
Stephen King is watching too
It’s not like the show began and ended its life on air as a treat for elderly Luddites alone. When new episodes of The Good Wife were still being churned out on a weekly basis, it was the beneficiary of both an intensely devoted fanbase and a passionate, incisive group of recappers; showrunners Robert and Michelle King have copped to terminating plotlines and characters ahead of schedule because they were floundering with fans. It would also be foolish to suggest that I’m the only person catching up on the show via CBS All Access or Netflix, where it’s available up here in Canada. (Stephen King has thoughts on Will and Alicia’s torrid would-be romance, for one.)
People are still discovering, watching, and discussing The Good Wife on an hourly basis, but there’s no ambient cultural pressure weighing on those of us who haven’t gobbled up every last available episode. There are no spoiler-filled chats circulating, begging to be perused and dissected; there are no title-card generators buckling under the weight of thousands of unfunny jokes and winking references. None of your friends and colleagues are incredulous when you tell them you haven’t yet finished season three. The world of the show is a space untainted by the omnipresence of Donald Trump, “Smooth,” and Harambe. It’s a dramatic oasis.
When my boyfriend and I sit down to watch an episode or two of The Good Wife every night, it feels like slipping into a warm cocoon. There are enough episodes remaining to last us until November, even if we pick up the pace. My phone is far away and our dinner is on a table in front of us. We ooh and aah over Diane and Kalinda’s wardrobes. We cheer when the show’s best recurring characters appear (Louis Canning! Colin Sweeney!) and groan when the boring ones return (away with ye, Wendy Scott-Carr). We hope the Florrick children turn into better actors, and we laugh every time the wealthy denizens of Lockhart Gardner resign themselves to sad glasses of scotch. When Alicia acts with her heart and not her head, we’re excited because she’s embracing her dark side — she’s the bad wife. Our reactions feel fresh and funny because they’re ours and ours alone. And when each episode ends, I’m reminded of how seldom I enjoy a piece of art in a way that feels totally independent from my life online.
Maybe that sounds unhealthy, but I think it’s worth sharing. I know I can’t be alone in how easily I find myself slipping into patterns of consumption that are totally governed by the prevailing cultural winds. It’s not shameful or weak. It’s just a consequence of life as an active and discerning viewer and listener in the year 2016. So if you’re reading this and any of it feels familiar, give this a try: next time you’re flipping through Spotify or Netflix, pick something that’s a little imposing — a discography in a genre you’ve never really explored, a long-running show with an intimidating number of episodes — and make it your end-of-summer project. Immerse yourself in it alongside someone you care about and keep it to yourself. With luck, it’ll remind you what you loved about art in the first place.