The CBS legal and political drama The Good Wife ends its 7-season run on May 8, and if you’re not a regular viewer of the show it might surprise you to learn how clever the writers are at coming up with plots ripped from the day’s top technology news headlines.
Back in 2007 I documented “What ‘The Sopranos’ taught me about technology,” and here’s my rundown of what The Good Wife has taught its audience about tech and its influence on everything from politics to the law to sex (yes, I confess this show is one of my guilty pleasures). For the uninitiated, The Good Wife in the show title is Alicia Florrick, who had put aside her legal career during her husband Peter’s rise in politics, only to get back into it after he ruins their marriage by cheating on her.
In between the legal infighting and interpersonal tussles, technology themes have been coming fast and furious as the show heads towards its 156th and final episode. (And I won’t go into details about a crucial deleted voice mail from a couple of seasons ago that has led to much angst and many plot twists.)
Most recently, an episode ("Unmanned" Season 7/Episode 18) focused on drones and privacy, as a therapist working from his home takes umbrage with a neighborhood group using an unmanned aerial vehicle to keep an eye on things. The therapist wound up in court three times over the drone, including once for shooting it down with a gun and again for knocking it out of the sky using an electric device dubbed a Drone Dropper (interestingly, a couple of weeks later I saw that a startup with drone dropping capabilities had received venture funding). A more serious drone-themed episode from 2011 featured a soldier under fire for allegedly firing a drone that killed Afghan citizens.
A recurring character on the show is Neil Gross, who runs a fictitious Google-like search engine company called Chumhum that like its real-life counterpart is always in court, either as defendant or plaintiff. Among the issues: revealing the IP address of a Chinese dissident seeking to circumvent the Great Firewall via his blog; allegations of search engine rank tweaking that negatively affected a voice recognition startup; NSA hijinks with its PRISM surveillance program.
Also appearing is a character suspected of being the Father of Bitcoin; the inventor of a self-driving car that winds up hitting and paralyzing a woman; an NSA employee who fancies himself a smalltime Edward Snowden; a Mark Zuckerberg-like computer programmer and social media entrepreneur (Sleuthway.com) who tries to stop a filmmaker from distributing an unflattering movie (a la “The Social Network”) about him.
Other episodes feature topics that Network World has written about over the years such as: the dreaded Insider Threat (one law firm investigator gets help from an IT guy to change some sensitive metadata); a lawyer opens the wrong email attachment and finds the firm held hostage for $50K by ransomware; the lead couple's kids’ computer cameras are used to spy on them. Other tech-fueled plots: flawed plagiarism-tracking software mucks up Alicia’s daughter’s college admission process; an injury sustained by the firing of a 3D-printed gun; assorted sketchy websites and social networking issues; hacked emails within the law firm being exposed to reveal embarrassing messages.
One episode got a little too close to home: the main law firm’s IT director winds up with a prototype tablet computer from Chumhum called The Foil that was left behind at a party, and wouldn’t you know that those sleazy tech news websites are willing to pay a pretty penny for it. But not if Internet gazillionaire Neil Gross can help it!
And then, there are the ever-present cellphones, including the use of “burners” to escape possible phone tapping. In one recent episode, off-and-on campaign manager Eli Gold scolds his daughter for answering her cellphone while at a party celebrating the union of two other characters… only to find that the call is really for him and that he needed to know what it was about. He hadn’t exactly been setting a good example over the years with his cellphone etiquette. But he was far from alone among the show’s characters in constantly interrupting discussions, legal cases and ahem, everything else, to check their phones.
The show has become increasingly loony, though also has remained entertaining over the years. Just like real life.