Creators and star of CBS’ The Good Wife offer insights into the riveting second season

The Good Wife is one of the hottest shows on tv right now, defying the limits of the typical legal procedural with complicated characters and dramatic stories both ongoing and week-to-week that won’t let you turn away.

This week at the winter meeting of the Television Critics Assocation, CBS held a panel with the husband and wife showrunners, Robert & Michelle King, and the Golden Globe-winning lead actress, Julianna Margulies. They discussed everything from the romantic complications and the politics on the show, to the driving forces behind their storytelling and the impressive slate of guest stars they’ve been able to attract.

Last week’s episode featured the return of Alicia’s brother Owen (Dallas Roberts) and a few scenes with the two of them opening up about their relationship struggles. The Kings adopt a Sense and Sensibility sort of perspective about Alicia and Owen, in that siblings can have a fascinating influence on each other.

As Robert King says, “they were coming at romance and passion and commitment from different angles based on their own upbringing.” So from what Alicia has gone through with Peter (Chris Noth) and her decision to stick with him (for the time being), Owen sees something in her attitude that he wishes he had, and vice versa, as Alicia continues to mull over what her life would be like if she could be with Will (Josh Charles) and the unrealized potential for love and passion between them.

These are things that Alicia is continually thinking about: Peter or Will?

“The great thing about TV is you never have to have the definitive answer,” remarks King.

One matter that will have a definitive answer, and soon–the State’s Attorney election. The writers have loved the tension created by the campaigning phase. Not only have they had two terrific guest actors in Anika Noni Rose and Titus Welliver as Peter’s opponents, Wendy Scott-Carr and Glenn Childs, but they’ve been able to explore one of their great interests–the Internet.

Twitter, blogs, and viral videos have all factored into the campaign process on the show. It’s evident that the Kings respect the impact of the Internet on politics, and the world as a whole. By being so plugged in, they seem almost prescient at times about what the media will be buzzing about in that span of time between the writing of an episode and its airing. Earlier this season, they had an episode about bullying that coincided with the nationwide discussion on the tragedy of young people committing suicide. An upcoming episode will tie into the current debate on political rhetoric.

Despite all the interesting material they could delve into with the State’s Attorney race, the outcome won’t be prolonged to the very end of Season 2 because they want to move the story forward and focus on how Peter’s win or loss affects Alicia and Eli (Alan Cumming).

Viewers can also expect the standoff between Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) and Blake (Scott Porter) to heat up even more. King comments on the balancing act they must play with Kalinda, whom he calls “slightly operatic.” She’s mysterious not just for the sake of it but because of how private she is, so the writers also strive to show that she’s a real human being with emotions. They assure us that by the end of the year, we’ll discover something very relatable about Kalinda that makes things clearer about who she is.

Margulies respects the way that sexuality has become just another integral part of the fabric of the show without needing to make some grand statement about who’s straight and who’s gay: “I don’t think about it. I don’t feel like it’s a presence. I feel like it’s part of life…That’s what I love about it. I think if it was gay and lesbian just to be gay and lesbian to make people happy that we have those characters on the show, that would make me uncomfortable because it wouldn’t be truthful.”

CBS got much praise from the panel for the freedom they’ve given them creatively. Rarely have they felt restricted with the content they’re permitted to portray, even on a broadcast network, and it is that freedom that has allowed The Good Wife to develop mature, intelligent themes and attract millions of dedicated viewers.

The Kings discussed constantly trying to take chances, to put twists in the story and explore complex issues. The cases each week address that morally gray area of the law, with Alicia and other characters we admire walking the line between some of the more corrupt sides of their profession. Sometimes they do great things–like saving a man’s life in the death penalty episode, “Nine Hours”–and sometimes they have to deal in the darker realms, as in “Breaking Up” with their attempt to turn the young client against his pregnant girlfriend.

All of these elements have contributed to the great reputation of The Good Wife and their ability to draw outstanding guest stars, even real-world personas like Vernon Jordan, Lou Dobbs, Barry Scheck, and Joe Trippi, who come on to play themselves and add to the genuine feel of the world created in the show.

Later this season, Michael J. Fox returns as the attorney who outwitted Alicia by using his neurological disorder to his advantage in the courtroom, and Gary Cole will reprise his role as conservative ballistics expert (and Diane-wooer) McVeigh. Martha Plimpton is in talks to come back as Patti Nyholm. There will also be some new guest stars making an appearance. In February episodes alone, we’ll see Method Man, Rita Wilson, Jerry Stiller, and America Ferrara.

With those who make the show dedicated to compelling, character-driven stories, The Good Wife is halfway through Season 2 and only seems to be getting better.

It airs Tuesday nights on CBS at 10pm ET/PT.

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