I’ve only been living here in Chicago for 15 years, so I certainly don’t claim to be a life-long resident-level expert on the subject. But even with only 15 years under my belt, it’s obvious (even to me) that the production designer did not do his or her due diligence with giving “The Good Wife” an authentic Chicago feel.
“The Good Wife,” if you don’t know, is a television show. Because I don’t have cable and I’m doing dinner, homework, dishes, putting kids to bed during prime-time, I never get to watch anything in real time. I’m always catching up on my shows on the computer at 9:30am on weekdays for the 2 hours that both of my children are in school. Also, I never keep up with what the good shows are so I end up watching everything two or three (or ten) years after it’s been aired. As of now, I am only on Season 3 of The Good Wife — so no spoilers from you lot that have already seen it!
The protagonist of the show, the good wife herself, is a woman named Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies). This is not her first go-round with a show shot in Chicago. Remember her from E.R.? The character Alicia Florrick is the wife of the Cook County State’s Attorney who, when the show opens, is in prison. He slept with a prostitute but he’s in prison because they said he misused official funds. In Chicago??!! Never! Alicia had been a stay-at-home mom living in a giant Highland Park estate when her husband went to prison but since he was the breadwinner, she had to go back to work. She moved her kids to the city and got a job at a law firm after 15 years out of the business. And not just any job! One that pays her well enough to wear Ralph Lauren suits!
The show is set in Chicago, but OBVIOUSLY not filmed here. And the show’s creator’s should have hired me to be their coach on Chicago authenticity because here are ten ways they get it wrong:
1. No one ever wears a giant, calf-length puffy down coat (black) and sensible, unattractive boots with good tread.
2. Mainly because the temperature never seems to be below 40 degrees.
3. People can drive right up to city hall and just park! Right on Dearborn! No trolling for a space much less paying $6.00 for 30 minutes of parking using those handy Pay-and-Display machines. Even more astonishingly, no one ever gets a parking ticket.
4. Everyone and I mean everyone is well-dressed, clean, and articulate. Remember this is a law show so that includes criminals, witnesses, jurors, bystanders, convenience store clerks, office workers, and prison guards. Not to mention the entire staff of the State’s Attorney’s office.
5. An alarming dearth of mustaches. Not that I’ve had a great deal of experience with the police or detectives or politics in this town. But it sure seems to me that 2/3 of the men involved in these professions in Chicago have mustaches.
6. No one seems to live in the suburbs. The law firm’s investigator can drive over to interview a witness and be back in time for lunch. Doesn’t anyone live in Northbrook or Schaumburg? There is no way you’re getting there and back in an hour, especially during high traffic times.
7. Alicia allegedly lives with teenagers and yet every time she comes home, her house is just as spotless as when she left. No half-empty bowls of popcorn left on the couch with bits of popcorn spilled on the floor. No dishes left in the sink. No teenagers howling because their favorite jeans are dirty. No urgent requests to be driven here or there. No emergency trips to Office Max at 9pm on a Sunday night because a teenager has a project due Monday morning and they forgot to tell her that they needed a tri-fold poster board, calligraphy markers, and six different kinds of pH paper. I don’t have teenagers (yet) but from what I can tell from my friends who do, it’s a lot more messy than “The Good Wife” might lead you to believe.
8. Alicia’s laundry, dry-cleaning, grocery shopping, and (for that matter) eating all seems to happen by magic. Whenever I leave the house, I’m stopping off in the basement to drop a load in the washing machine. When I come back up I usually have groceries, dry cleaning, light bulbs, or the aforementioned school supplies.
9. When I used to watch E.R. I would joke that everyone on that show lived under the EL. On “The Good Wife” no one lives near the EL, no one takes the EL, and you never even see it. The one time I saw an EL train going by and it said “ITA” — this is not Brooklyn!
10. In one scene, the investigator was following some suspect or other and she parked her car on a hill! We do not have hills here!
One thing the show gets right (surprisingly):
Alicia Florrick moved her kids from Highland Park where they were in private school. Now that they all live in the city, the kids go to public school. If memory serves me, I think she said her apartment was near 1600 N. State Street. That’s like State & Division, right? If that’s the case then Ogden would be the neighborhood school where her 7th grade daughter goes and her high-school aged son could go to Lincoln Park High School. Of course the scenes shot near those schools have the schools all wrong but hey! They picked a believable address for them!
So there you go, creative team for The Good Wife. I will gladly provide my authenticity consulting services to give your show a more real Chicago feel. I won’t even ask for money! I would, however, like a few pairs of Kalinda’s boots.
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