It is a fascinating question: Why do all those cheated-on political wives stand there and take it?
They always look so meek and tolerant of their husbands' infidelities. It doesn't matter whether the cheater is a Democrat or Republican or if the wife has a reputation as a feminist or a believer in traditional gender roles.
Under the glare of the spotlight, they all appear to come from Stepford. Why don't they do what millions of nonpolitical wives do -- call the guy a skunk and find a divorce lawyer who can point him to the cleaners?
CBS' Tuesday series premiere The Good Wife, in which Julianna Margulies plays the wife of a philandering Cook County state's attorney (guest star Chris Noth), spends little time wrestling with this question. There is a point, though, when the character confesses that she, too, wondered about the timid responses of other publicly humiliated wives. In her own case, she says, she was merely caught unprepared.
That might be as good an answer as any. In any event, it is a terrific springboard to a series that is appealing -- even compelling -- in a variety of ways.
There could not be a better choice for the title role of Alicia Florrick than Margulies. Through words spoken and unspoken, she paints a detailed, moving portrait of a woman whose largely private, well-ordered life is suddenly and publicly shattered. Now every stranger has an opinion about her and her jailed husband. Meanwhile, her husband's transgressions and possible criminality have become fodder for endless TV broadcasts.
Alicia was a lawyer before she quit 13 years earlier to raise two children. Six months after the scandal breaks, she returns to work to support her family. She soon discovers that former colleagues have moved up the partnership ladder and that she must share the lowest rung with a recent and highly competitive law school graduate.
The premiere deftly combines an introduction to Alicia and her situation with an intriguing case about a teacher who is retried for the murder of her former husband. Her work on the pro bono case turns out to be a test of Alicia's legal acumen and her ability to navigate treacherous office politics.
There also are smart scenes with Alicia's children. They are written with commendable restraint by creators Robert and Michelle King. And there's a complicated dynamic between Alicia and her mother-in-law (guest star Mary Beth Peil), who urges compassion for her son while she helps out with the kids.
CBS scheduled Wife, a show with built-in female appeal, at 10 p.m. following NCIS and the new spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles. Very smart. Male viewers who stick around for this new drama might find themselves hooked.