By Caryn James | James on Screens February 16, 2011 at 7:28AM
A nerdy young social-network creator sues a movie studio for depicting him as “a creep and a jerk.” And that’s just the start of the Social Network echoes in last night’s sly episode of The Good Wife, which plays like Mark Zuckerberg’s path not taken. This episode did not present some vague, Facebook-y story. It was loaded with head-on reference to all things Social Network.
When Lockhart-Gardner, the law firm Julianna Margulies’s character works for, takes on the social-network creator’s defamation case against the studio, we see smart-ass deposition scenes, a screenwriter with a drug-arrest past who un-self-consciously compares himself to Shakespeare, and characters who talk really, really fast. There is a T-shirt from the fictional movie with the lead actor’s face and the words: Public Frienemy #1. In case you’ve forgotten, The Social Network’s tagline: “You don’t get to 500 Million Friends Without Making Some Enemies.”
What does this tell us? That the movie about Mark Zuckerberg has become more famous than Mark Zuckerberg. Television shows don’t make in-jokes unless the audience is certain to get them, and this episode reveals how widely The Social Network has seeped into the culture. The movie has a myth and story of its own, and that -- not Zuckerberg and Facebook -- was what The Good Wife so shrewdly tackled.
The Zuckerberg character here is called Patric Edelstein, and the actor who plays him, Jack Carpenter, looks more like Max Minghella than Jesse Eisenberg, but he’ll do. At his deposition, he is as distracted and above-it-all as Eisenberg’s character is in the famous deposition scene in The Social Network, a clip shown so often that even people who haven’t seen the movie might recognize it. (The Good Wife’s scene could have been cloned from the Social Network photo above.) Edelstein complains about the movie scene in which his girlfriend breaks up with him -- of course it's that instant-classic Social Network opening.
The Good Wife also goes outside the movie – as if it were adding DVD behind-the-scenes features – and brings in the fictional film’s Aaron Sorkin-like screenwriter to be deposed. We see where the movie’s main character got his arrogance. “The First Amendment protects me from your stupid, dumb-ass questions,” he says, adding that he cares nothing for facts, only for the “truth of character.”
The episode seems to be playing out the “How real is it?” Social Network debate, which is pretty worn out by now. No matter. One of the great things about the series is that there’s no moral righteousness; the lawyers don’t care if Edelstein is, in fact, a jerk. They just want to win, to make the studio back down.
The Good Wife doesn’t ordinarily rely on such ripped-from-the-headlines plots, even though the series sprang from the Eliot Spitzer scandal, with Margulies as Alicia Florick, a Silda Spitzer-stand-in whose state’s attorney husband resigns over a sex scandal.
And last night’s episode was atypical in other ways: Alicia wasn’t in the office or even in town. She was on a road trip with her brother, Owen (Dallas Roberts), who gives her advice about her romantic life. (Here’s a clip of that scene from my earlier post.)
Even though she seems to have reconciled with her husband, who’s running for office again, Owen says she’s in love with her boss and old college love, Will (Josh Charles), and should just tell him so. He doesn’t think she’ll actually do that. “You’re a good person,” he says, disappointed.
He may not be right. There are no simple answers to the question of what’s “good ” on this show; it’s the series’ great strength. On The Good Wife, love at least as complex and fraught with compromises as politics, and that’s a lot.
That realism – near cynicism – makes the series ideal for skewering the movie business. In one of the deposition scenes, a car manufacturer answers questions about product placement in the fictional Facebook film. He had a choice of movies to put his cars in. “It was this or The Social Network,” he said, in a winking disclaimer that was one of the night’s best lines.
Here's how Alicia's conversation with WIll played out.