Analyzing Julianna Margulies: “The Good Wife” vs. “Canterbury’s Law”

As announced yesterday, Julianna Margulies was nominated for the second year in a row for her performance as Alicia Florrick on CBS’s The Good Wife. She won last year, and barring any major upset, will win again. While The Good Wife is one of my favorite television series on the air right now, Margulies played a similar character a few years ago on FOX called Canterbury’s Law. That show only lasted six episodes due to the Writer’s Strike, and one wonders what would happen if that show had become a success. Would The Good Wife still have been made, and if so, would it be as good without Margulies? Let’s delve into the worlds of these two shows – how they are alike and different, and what The Good Wife would be today without its leading lady.

Similarities and differences between Canterbury’s Law and The Good Wife: In both series Margulies plays a tough lawyer in a profession that seems like ‘an all boys club’. While Elizabeth Canterbury is tough externally, fighting tooth and nail with anyone that crosses her path, Alicia Florrick is strong willed and while she isn’t always vocal, she stays firmly planted in tough situations.

Also, both characters have been dealt with a major blow in life. For Canterbury, her son had been kidnapped under her watch, and her husband blames her for his disappearance. Florrick, meanwhile, has to deal with her husband, a politician, who slept with a prostitute and is in jail for corruption. Each of Margulies’s characters deal with these issues differently, and as a viewer, seeing how she deals with those situations are main plot points in each series.

However, in Canterbury’s Law we get to see Margulies in charge. She owns the law firm that the show takes place in, so we get to see her strengths as a leader as well as a lawyer, whereas in The Good Wife Margulies plays an associate, who usually takes commands from higher ups, and we don’t get to see that leadership command.

The main difference between the two legal dramas is that while The Good Wife is presented in a somewhat lighter vein (definitely not as light as Ally McBeal or Boston Legal, but not as dark as The Practice either), Canterbury’s Law was very dark and edgy. Many fans of the latter series say that the wrong network got the rights to the series. FOX hasn’t had many solid hits in the past few seasons, and many thought that if Law had aired on CBS or ABC, it would’ve been a hit.

So now comes to the all important question. If Canterbury’s Law had taken off, would The Good Wife have been made?

The good news is that we’ll never have to know, but it is fun to speculate. Any good series that focuses on one character needs a very strong lead. If Margulies would have been busy with Canterbury’s Law, who would’ve been chosen as Alicia Florrick? I personally feel that if the series had been made with anyone but Margulies, the show would have to rely more on the ensemble aspect and less on the Florrick family (save for husband Peter, played brilliantly by Chris Noth).

As I’ve stated many times it is hard for networks to have a lot of legal dramas on the air, and if Law and The Good Wife were to go head to head I honestly couldn’t tell you who would win. If Margulies were on both shows I’d say it was a toss up. But if it were another leading lady on The Good Wife, any guess would be as good as mine.

What do you guys think? Is either show better than the other? Would The Good Wife have been successful without Margulies? Sound off!

2 replies »

  1. It’s a tough question because I love both shows. I think Margulies had more material in Canterbury and there was still a lot to do with the character but on the other hand, what I like most about The Good Wife was the weakest point in Canterbury: the supporting cast of characters (and the actors who play them).

    While I think TGW could stand a little dose of the edgy darkness that made Canterbury such a different legal drama, I love the show’s characters and their dynamics too much to prefer Canterbury’s Law.

  2. I loved her in Canterbury’s law. I liked this tough ass Julianna Marguiles with the dark and edgy side. Its a side of her I’ve never seen. I love her in the Good Wife because she is tough but pragmatic as well. I mainly watch it for her but then i love her as an actor so I’d watch her in anything she does. I loved her in ER too. She is tough in both shows and it is a toss up which one would have succeeded more than the other one. I’m on the fence with that one.

    I do love the cast of TGW I can’t deny that. I think it does make the show with how Alicia Florrick mixes it up with everyone and the cameo’s of different people on the show while on Canterbury’s cast was starting to grow on me. I like seeing new people try to make it on TV and like to give them the benefit of the doubt but I don’t know if they were as strong to make the show entirely successful in the long run of things the way TGW does.

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