Sex and Screwball Comedy in The Good Wife
by Kelli Marshall — DePaul University
October 14, 2011 – 00:00
Classical screwball comedy consists of varying conventions: verbal sparring, class conflict, physical comedy, gender equality, the promise of marriage. But its overriding objective is always to showcase "situations arising from the duel tensions of sexual and ideological conflict between its romantic leads" (Lent 315). Indeed, the genre’s success and, I’d argue, sexiness rest on such friction-filled circumstances as well as the ultimate resolution or the coming together of the heterosexual couple.
On the whole, The Good Wife has little in common with screwball comedies like It Happened One Night (1934) and His Girl Friday (1940). First and most obvious, the show is a drama. Second, none of the central romantic relationships hinges on verbal gymnastics or philosophical differences; Alicia/Will’s in particular is founded on years of pent-up curiosity and the allure of adultery. We might argue differently, however, about the amusing on-again/off-again pairing of law partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole).
In this clip, Lockhart’s and McVeigh’s differences, ideological and otherwise, are obvious. Her business suit and flawless makeup contrast with his leather jacket and gaudy belt buckle. He "doesn’t like Chicago"; she’s at home there. He’ll quit a case if he finds his client guilty; her firm aims "never to fail the client." She’s a third-generation Democrat; he attends Tea Party rallies. Later, McVeigh sends Lockhart a copy of Palin’s memoir, which she counters with A Candid Look Inside the Mind of Political Conservative Sarah Palin, a small tome filled with blank pages. She detests guns while he owns dozens. Finally, during a conversation, she snaps, “I’m always astounded when a man like you expresses such unadulterated drivel.” He retorts quickly, “Funny. I’m never astounded when you do.”
As in classical screwball comedies, this witty repartee, silly gift-giving, and ideological clashing symbolize foreplay; thus, when Lockhart and McVeigh do get involved, no one’s surprised. In fact, as these message boards, reviews, and fan-made videos indicate, some viewers are downright giddy about the odd liberal/conservative match, even claiming that it’s sexier than (or at least as sexy as) Alicia/Will’s. Either way, it’s a fun and welcome release from the show’s more problematic relationships. And, hey, all those (phallic) rifles and gun puns (McVeigh: You wanna fire it?)—just like that (phallic) dinosaur bone in Bringing Up Baby (1938)—don’t hurt either.