Katja Kanzler. “Narrative Politics in Contemporary TV Legal Drama”

Katja Kanzler
Panel IV: Television (21. June 2013)

Narrative Politics in Contemporary TV Legal Drama: The Good Wife and Damages

  1. Introduction: Social Issue Courtroom Drama
  2. Trust No One: Damages
  3. This Is Roulette, this Isnt Law: The Good Wife


My paper explores what I consider a trend in recent TV legal drama: to self-consciously tap into and ambiguate the convention of political issue-orientation that exists in the genre, its capacity to engage with political issues, well researched around programs ranging from The Defenders (1961-65) to The Practice (1997-2004). I suggest that some legal dramas in the new millennium—including The Good Wife (2009-) and Damages (2007-2012)—invoke and rework this convention by introducing an ethical dimension that complicates political categories and easily didactic political readings. The series serve me as two very different examples—one a network, the other a cable program; one relying primarily on episodic, the other on serial narration—to discuss the textual dynamics and cultural effects of this new trend. The textual dynamics I want to trace there resonate with the set of techniques theorized by media scholar Jason Mittell as complex narrative: a new paradigm of television storytelling [that] has emerged over the past two decades, with a reconceptualization of the boundary between episodic and serial forms, a heightened degree of self-consciousness in storytelling mechanics, and demands for intensified viewer engagement focused on both diegetic pleasures and formal awareness (Mittell 39). I am interested in how the two series integrate the techniques of complex narrative into the conventions of the legal drama to complexify the genres political issue-orientation. In particular, I want to probe into the ways in which the series cultivate tensions between the political agendas ostensibly pursued by their characters and the ethics involved in realizing these by foregrounding the rhetorical nature of politics. The Good Wife and Damages, as I want to outline, not only depict this rhetoricity in their storyworlds of law, they also explore it through their own narrative form and self-reflexive engagement with representation and signification.


 Get Me a Lawyer
Allen Coulter
 Caution: The Story Line Is Slippery
Dave Itzkoff
Todd A. Kessler
 The Social Issue Courtroom Drama as an Expression of American Popular Culture
Matthias Kuzina
Dan Minahan
 Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling
Jason Mittell
 Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television
Jason Mittell
 Temporalities on Collision Course: Time, Knowledge, and Temporal Critique in Damages
Toni Pape
 The Good Wife
Ridley Scott
 Madoff Case as Legal Thriller, With Glenn Close
Alessandra Stanley