A Guide to Catching Up the TV Shows That Everyone Is Talking About

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies play Peter and Alicia Florrick in 'The Good Wife.' Does it pay to be good?
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

One of the things one has to learn to live with is the fact that there are so many parallel universes out there: there is the one where we and our nearest and dearest live in, and then there are the universes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Mad Men,” and “Blue Bloods” and “Game of Thrones,” and “The Good Wife” and, and – an endless list of lives one has to follow, if one wants to be “in.”

But if one wants to follow all the plots, storylines, “arcs,” apogees and pits, one has to spend hours glued to the screen, either at fixed times during weekdays, or binge-watching during Saturdays and holidays. Either way, it means living your own lives (as many as you can afford to have), or following the lives of your fictional “others.”

In case you’ve encountered the kind of quandary I’m meandering on about, let me offer you a way of “serializing” yourself properly, without losing too much time or sleep. You had better learn to live with your series the way you survive your relations with your myriad – hopefully – distant relatives and acquaintances, and in many cases friends, current or recent.

The way to do this is to get to know the basic facts: the premise, the main cast and the recurring characters. You can become quite an expert by watching a couple of episodes of season one, or by meeting an acquaintance of a friend for a cup of coffee. Once you get the basics, you can keep them in mind and follow the plot from afar. Unlike in your own life, you don’t have to be on your toes regarding where the hell the other plot is going. Once in a while you may tune in to an episode, or even better, chance upon it in another rerun while zapping aimlessly between channels looking for something to pass the time. In no time you will be up to speed on the plot and know who had done what to whom while you were otherwise engaged.

The best way to do it is by checking in on a series between seasons, when a character hangs from a cliff on a whimsical thread of a plot (hence the term “cliffhanger,” a season ending with a question mark like “who shot J.R.?” [Come on, don’t tell me you have forgotten the Ewings of “Dallas”]). You don’t even have to watch the season’s finale. TV columns (like this one) will tell you all you need to know and spare you the spoilers while giving you enough to feed on when a particular series is being discussed. And by the way, believe you me, talking about current TV series can be much more entertaining and even edifying than discussing the new government, which seems to be too disjointed to dissect, but that is beside the point (as is the government).

Take “The Good Wife,” for instance: This CBS series (on Yes Drama in Israel) about Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) has just ended its sixth season, while the seventh has already been commissioned and is in the making. By now Florrick, who was a “good wife” for 13 years (while her charming, scheming and philandering husband, Peter, managed to get himself elected to public office, be accused of vote rigging, spend time in jail and be elected governor) is leading a public (and publicly private) life of her own, shedding a different light on the meaning of the adjective “good” when affixed to the noun “wife,” with both words in inverted commas, as befits a title. Having lost her prospective beau due to a “sudden death” in season five, in season six she managed to merge two rivaling law firms and emerge relatively unscathed from being elected State’s Attorney, accused of vote rigging (looks like it runs in the Florrick family), stepping down, and still be considered both “good” and “wife,” whatever those two words may mean in uneasy tandem.

Both Alicia and her husband, her many partners and adversaries in (and out of) law will keep on thriving as long as the rating numbers hold, echoing the many political-personal scandals happening in “real” life, and there is nothing we can do about it. However, the title of the series is an opportunity to ponder a bit on the theme “what is so good about being good?”

The answer that comes most readily to mind is “nothing much,” evoked by the title of a best-selling book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Having said that, one has to remember that it was God’s prerogative (as spelled out in Genesis 2) to discern the difference between “good” and “bad,” and that he tried hard to keep that arcane knowledge from his creatures.

But they did take the bite from this poisoned apple (please note: not Apple) of knowledge of Good and Evil, and discovered that a very thin and often blurred line distinguishes one from the other, and one rarely knows in real time when one had already crossed it. Therefore it is very important to measure how good (or bad) one is, and when one is bound to turn from one to the other (and it all depends who is calling the shots, and how good is their aim).

In order to wind up this column, inspired by an end of yet another season of “The Good Wife” I would like to draw your attention to the seemingly infinite possibilities in the English language to be better over good, if one is so inclined: good, gooder, goodest, better, betterer, betterest, best, bester and bestest. More than one of the odd words I’ve come up with here are recognized as legitimate by the OED.

To give credit where credit is due (for instance, to “Breaking Bad”), in the end one has to make room for the spectrum of: bad, badder, baddest, worse, worser, worsest, worst, worster, worstest.

And a parting thought: “Not bad” is actually a kind of praise, compared to “no good.”