I can say without reservation that this Sunday's episode of CBS' The Good Wife is the most exciting hour of drama anyone will see on broadcast television this season. It is certainly the strongest broadcast hour of 2013 to date -- and no, I haven't forgotten the most moving episodes earlier this year of NBC's Parenthood, with its harrowing and heartfelt arc about one character's heroic struggle with cancer and the impact it had on her loved ones. Parenthood may have touched me, but The Good Wife has knocked me flat.
It is also the strongest episode in the five-year history of The Good Wife, which is saying a lot given the unwavering quality of that show since it began. There are reasons why it is often the only broadcast series grouped by critics into the company of television's finest dramas, the rest of which happen to be on basic and pay cable.
In fact, speaking of pay cable, I would say that this episode of The Good Wife calls to mind the season-four finale of HBO's modern-drama standard-bearer The Sopranos. That was the episode in which Tony and Carmela's marriage exploded, a plot development that had been building throughout that season, and even before, as Carmela became increasingly aware of her husband's many infidelities. Remember that blistering confrontation between Tony and Carmela? At one point it seemed as though Tony was going to cross a line he had never even approached and hit his wife, but he instead punched a hole in the wall next to her head. It was one of the most powerful moments in the history of television.
Nothing in this episode of The Good Wife gets quite that intense, but it comes close in different emotional and psychological ways, both for the characters and for longtime viewers invested in them. That's the greatest thing about television, isn't it? The way a well-done comedy or drama draws people in, becomes a part of their lives and establishes long-term emotional connections with them?
Those of us who were fully invested in The Sopranos felt like we were right there in the room when Tony and Carmela were screaming at each other. To this day I recall not simply feeling that I was standing next to them, but that they were draining the air out of the room and I had to think about breathing. There are scenes in this Sunday's episode of The Good Wife that aren't far from that in their raw power. They tear at viewers' established emotional connections and their comfort with certain assumptions about the characters in ways I have never seen a broadcast drama do before.
It's no secret that a major storyline on The Good Wife this season involves a small group of attorneys at Lockhart/Gardner quietly planning to break away and start their own firm, taking a handful of L/G clients with them. The tension generated by this plotline has been palpable since the season began, as has the knowledge that when the time came for the group to actually leave, the you-know-what would fly in all directions (hence the title of the episode, Hitting the Fan). That's exactly what happens right from the opening sequence and it never lets up, making for what can only be described as the kind of breath-taking, pulse-pounding drama broadcast television networks will need if they are to survive and thrive in the new media world.
This column continues in the MediaPost TV Blog.