Sex and Screwball Comedy in The Good Wife

Curator's Note

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.


Thanks for the post, Kelli.  I'm really glad you are focusing on this delightful couple (Sex on The Good Wife can be fun?  Who knew?).  

One of the things I admire about classical Hollywood screwball comedies is their recognition of female desire (particularly in my favorite of the genre, The Phildelphia Story).  At the risk of oversimplifying, I appreciate that through the verbal banter, etc, these films free their female characters from the virgin/whore binary that would otherwise keep women trapped as objects of desire.  

So now that women are all sexually liberated (yes, there is some irony intended here), how does the genre work differently.  What do we learn about Diane from her slightly comedic interactions with Kurt?

Yes! Screwball women also function as active subjects rather than "objects of desire"; both parties are participants in the struggle. (This is part of what I mean by "gender equality" in my first statement.) :)

And, yes, Diane definitely fits this convention as she's the one who's usually initiating things in the on-again/off-again relationship with Kurt, e.g., she kisses him, she visits his barn (several times), she plays with his guns (pun intended!), etc. And even when she challenges McVeigh and his "homespun investigative methods" during a deposition (episode "Running"), there's still a mutual respect there. Both know she's just doing her job.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for the post, Kelli.  I really appreciate your attention to this coupling, as it is one of the main avenues for overt comedy in the earlier seasons.  The ideological antagonism between Diane and Kurt is, as you point out, a point of comparison to screwball comedies, but I wonder if it, too, is another link to the recent political landscape, particularly the marriage of Mary Matalin and James Carville.  Though the gender-political ideology match is flipped, I always seem to think of this real-life pair when Kurt and Diane argue about politics while still very much enjoying each other's company.

In terms of screwball comedy, how do you read where we last left the coupling?  An impromptu proposal to run away to Costa Rica almost immediately following the consumation of their symbolic foreplay seems in line with the genre as well, save perhaps for Diane's response.

Thanks, Charlotte. And thanks for rounding up this week's posts!

Sure, I think the writers are playing off Matalin/Carville and also with the name McVeigh. In fact, Fox News approached the writers about this, asking whether they "crossed the line" by naming the character after Timothy McVeigh (more here, if interested).

Re: the last scene with Diane/Kurt, yep, you're right: it does "seem in line with the genre" except for Diane's response. It will be interesting to continue a "screwball analysis" if Cole returns to the show. (Some report that he's not coming back and that Diane will be paired with a much younger man this season, but I'm hoping that's not the case!)

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