The time has come. CBS' acclaimed courtroom drama signs off for good this Sunday; but long after The Good Wife series finale has aired, it will be remembered for lots of things. Its complex and layered female protagonist; its stellar, award-winning supporting cast; its topical and timely legal cases; its top-notch production values, from the impeccable cinematography to the sublime score. But one of the show's strongest assets — and the thing that made it such a joy to tune into each week — was its consistently impressive cast of recurring guest stars. So, on the eve of its goodbye, let's rank the The Good Wife 's recurring guest stars from worst to best.
A couple of caveats before we begin. First of all, obviously this is completely subjective, so no angry letter-writing please. Secondly, there are way too many recurring characters to possibly list them all; Wikipedia lists 87 actors as having "recurred" throughout the seven seasons. For the sake of brevity, I've eliminated the recurring players who have had such a presence that they really feel like members of the main cast: like Peter and his mother Jackie, Alicia's mother and brother, and good ol' Howard Lyman. From those that remained, I pulled some of the best, some of the worst, some of the funniest, and some of the nastiest — and all of the most famous.
39. Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parrish)
As a traumatized young man on trial for murder, the Weeds star gave far from the show's "worst" performance; but how could we ever forgive the guy who shot and killed Will Gardner?
38. Damian Boyle (Jason O'Mara)
What exactly was the point of this bad boy Irish mob lawyer? He was there for a while and then he wasn't. Not the show's best creation, rendered moot by how thoroughly he vanished.
37. Dean Levine-Wilkins (Taye Diggs)
Diggs' addition to the cast at the beginning of Season 6 was much-heralded… only for the previously unseen Lockhart/Gardner partner to disappear as quickly as he had appeared after only three episodes.
36. Connor Fox (Matthew Morrison)
Yeah, Peter Florrick may be a criminal, but it's still kind of hard to root for anyone who's trying to bring him down. It doesn't help that we'd never met Connor Fox before his sudden vendetta against the Governor; wouldn't it mean more if Peter was facing off against one of his longtime nemeses rather than bearded Mr. Schuester?
35. Johnny Elfman (Steven Pasquale)
It was totally necessary for Alicia to rediscover her sexuality in the post-Will era; but why did it have to happen with this surly, scruffy campaign manager rather than with dapper Finn Polmar?
34. Jordan Karahalios (T.R. Knight)
Eli Gold collects enemies like Professor Slughorn collects students. As a fledgling political consultant, this Grey's Anatomy alum never stood a chance against him; but it was his egregious use of Alicia's children for political purposes that really doomed him.
33. Courtney Paige (Vanessa Williams)
For such a fussy guy, Eli has sure had his fair share of love interests over the years — but as great as it was to see Vanessa Williams on the show, this pairing felt a bit random and a little too late-in-the-game to really resonate.
32. Reese Dipple (Oliver Platt)
I may not have agreed with a lot of things (or anything, really) Reese ever said, but it was fun watching him match wits with Diane Lockhart and making her step outside of her comfort zone. And he was pretty likable, actually, for a staunch Republican.
31. Mike Tascioni (Will Patton)
Finally meeting Elsbeth's ex-husband certainly explained a lot — even if his constant dog-in-hand shtick felt like the writers trying a little too hard to match her level of eccentricity. And the way he suddenly disappeared right before Peter's trial was a little odd.
30. Judge George Kluger (Jeffrey Tambor)
Jeffrey Tambor is always a delight to watch, but he's perhaps never been more delightfully awkward than when he was unexpectedly asking Alicia out on a date. Too bad we never actually got to see them grab that coffee…
29. Laura Hellinger (Amanda Peet)
The Good Wife was always at its most fascinating when it was examining different types of law — like military court, where we met Captain Laura Hellinger as a defendant in a rape case, before she transitioned from client to lawyer-in-training.
28. Jeff Dellinger (Zach Woods)
Jeff is particularly memorably because of the case Alicia recently argued for him in Canada; but really he stands in here for all of those guys at the NSA, who — together with their screaming goat videos — always managed to make a subplot about surveillance incongruously hilarious.
27. Vanessa Gold (Parker Posey)
It would have been easy for Eli's estranged wife to fit some tired trope of an ex. Leave it to Parker Posey to subvert expectations as a likable ex with political aspirations of her own, whose playful chemistry with Alan Cumming was always a hoot.
26. Neil Gross (John Benjamin Hickey)
Chumhum's founder may not have been as flashy as some of his fellow guest stars, but appearing in six out of the show's seven seasons, he was one of its most consistent presences — and he never failed to deliver in the smarmy arrogance department.
25. Wendy Scott-Carr (Anika Noni Rose)
Unlikable, unapologetic, and unafraid to make enemies in her climb to the top, Wendy Scott-Car was one of the show's most surprisingly insidious villains, first as Peter's political rival, and then as the lawyer prosecuting Will for bribery.
24. Maddie Hayward (Maura Tierney)
Alicia was in sore need of a female friend after her relationship with Kalinda came to a screeching halt. For a while it seemed like Maddie Hayward might fit the bill… which made her betrayal, when she announced her candidacy for governor against Peter, all the more hurtful.
23. Stacie Hall (Amy Sedaris)
Amy Sedaris is currently cracking us up on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but before that the comedian was killing it on The Good Wife as a lobbyist not afraid to go to great (read: scandalous and flirtatious) lengths to get her way with Eli Gold.
22. Charles Lester (Wallace Shawn)
Sometimes big things come in small packages, and sometimes diminutive Wallace Shawn is the most terrifying person on your show. What does it say that everyone was more scared of squeaky-voiced Charles Lester than his boss, drug kingpin Lemond Bishop?
21. Clarke Hayden (Nathan Lane)
Who says you can't teach old dogs new tricks? The trustee tasked with handling Lockhart/Gardner's bankruptcy showed a spark for the law and in no time at all became an attorney in his own right. And all while played by lovable Nathan Lane! It was impossible not to root for Clarke Hayden.
20. Judge Richard Cuesta (David Paymer)
Cuesta was the very first judge we ever met, way back in The Good Wife's pilot episode; he would go on to appear seven more times over the next seven years. He may not have had any of the quirks or gimmicks of some of his fellow guest stars — but his professional demeanor and stolid dependability is what made him stand out from the pack.
19. Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry)
Meanwhile, it was impossible not to root against Mike Kresteva. The slimy lawyer-turned-politician was played with just the right amount of oozy charm by the Friends alum, that ultimately it was so satisfying to see Peter beat him in the race for the governorship.
18. Becca (Dreama Walker)
How ironic that Eli Gold's fiercest enemy wasn't a fearsome politician or a bloodthirsty law shark… but a perky blonde teenage girl. Zach's scheming girlfriend Becca probably gave Eli more headaches than the rest of his antagonists combined.
17. Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter)
The recurring subplot surrounding Lemond Bishop's drug empire may have never been The Good Wife's strongest, but Colter always delivered, perfectly balancing the barely-veiled threat of a drug lord with the charismatic image of a devoted family man.
16. Natalie Flores (America Ferrera)
Of all of Eli's love interests, Natalie Flores was the unlikeliest — and by far the sweetest. The two characters may not have had much in common, but sometimes on a drama it's a relief just to see two decent people get along. Things may not have ultimately worked out between them, but Natalie will always be the one that got away.
15. Frank Prady (David Hyde Pierce)
When your protagonist is running for office, how do you not make the ensuing conflict incredibly one-sided for your audience? By having her opponent be played by David Hyde Pierce, of course. We didn't want to see either of them lose the race for States Attorney!
14. Caitlin D'Arcy (Anna Camp)
When we first met David Lee's niece, she proved anyone who thought she was hired out of nepotism wrong by being a perfectly competent lawyer. And when she quit her job to raise her children, she showed how it was an empowering decision. And how refreshing to see her back in action in the final season!
13. Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole)
He of the unfortunate last name and the unfortunate political leanings; who would ever have thought that progressive attorney Diane Lockhart and conservative ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh would have wound up happily married? Somehow the writers — and the actors' chemistry — made it seem like a match made in TV heaven.
12. Andrew Wiley (Tim Guinee)
This stay-at-home dad/freelance investigator should have come with his own bumper sticker: "Baby On Board!" Andrew was capable of hunting down a lead while simultaneously caring for his adorable infant — a boast not even Kalinda could make.
11. Joy Grubick (Linda Lavin)
The Golden Globe-winning actress took what could have easily been a thankless part — a guff, take-no-prisoners pretrial service officer — and imbued her with such life and such unexpected empathy that Joy's three-episode arc became one of Season 6's highlights.
10. Judge Patrice Lessner (Ana Gasteyer)
In my opinion, Judge Lessner was one of the most hilarious creations the writers ever conjured up. This stickler for proper phrasing never failed to throw the lawyers off their game… and never failed to make the audience chuckle, either.
9. Nancy Crozier (Mamie Gummer)
No matter what Nancy Crozier says or what airs she puts on, she is most definitely not "just a Michigan girl." Although she pretends to be naïve and blundering on the outside, she's really one of the most ruthless lawyers The Good Wife has ever introduced. It's a delicious juxtaposition.
8. Ruth Eastman (Margo Martindale)
Is Margo Martindale ever not excellent? Whether it's Justified or The Americans or The Good Wife, the Emmy-winning actress always elevates whatever she's in; that certainly includes her role as Eli's last great rival. I would watch a spinoff devoted solely to Eli and Ruth trading barbs and scheming behind each other's backs.
7. Robyn Burdine (Jess Weixler)
Whatever happened to Robyn? It's perhaps the greatest mystery in Good Wife history — and one that fans are unlikely to ever get over, considering how well-liked the character was before her disappearance. As an investigator, Robyn was everything Kalinda wasn't: namely blonde, perky, and optimistic. But somehow she still always got results.
6. Judge Charles Abernathy (Denis O'Hare)
Are those tears in my eyes? No, it's just the pepper spray I got while offering moral support to the Occupy Wall Street movement during my lunch break. I was there with Judge Abernathy, the biggest bleeding-heart liberal in history. But what made his character so fun was how you could never tell when he would lean into his sensibilities — and when he would unexpectedly push back against them.
5. Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele)
Who would have guessed, when she was first introduced in the second season, that Eli Gold's daughter would go on to be such a major presence on the show — and such a wonderful one? Alicia's "bodywoman" is somehow able to portray being a believable teenager (and then twentysomething) without ever being grating. Any scene she and her father share together is guaranteed to be a gem. Can we also get a spinoff about Marissa's budding law career, please?
4. Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox)
When The Good Wife is over, will you miss hearing about Louis Canning's tardive dyskinesia? Probably not. But you probably will miss Michael J. Fox's devious character, a refreshing take on a person with an illness who's not afraid to use that illness to get exactly what he wants — which, usually, is defeating Alicia.
3. Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton)
If Andrew Wiley was successful in spite of his ever-present toddler, then Patti Nyholm was successful because of her ever-present babies and breast pumps. Patti doesn't let motherhood keep her from winning; in fact, she uses her ever-expanding brood of children to her advantage, employing them as a buffer between her and the visibly uncomfortable men around her. Boy, she's good.
2. Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker)
Serial killers rarely come as charming — or as twisted — as Colin Sweeney. His wit was as sharp as his weapons and his odd attraction to Alicia Florrick yielded perhaps the strangest relationship between a murderer and a female professional since Hannibal Lecter smacked his lips at Clarice Starling. Anytime Colin Sweeney popped up in an episode, you knew you were in for a treat.
1. Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston)
Well, duh. Did you honestly think anyone else would end up at number one on this list? Preston won an Emmy for playing Elsbeth Tascioni, and for good reason: within The Good Wife's impressively large recurring cast, Elsbeth is easily the most original, hilarious, smartest, eccentric, and memorable character of them all. The impending finale is sad for a lot of reasons… but one of the biggest is that it means we'll never get to see Elsbeth and her uniquely odd brain win another impossible case.
You know what? In order to truly appreciate this incredibly cast of characters, I think I'll just have to start over and watch The Good Wife again from the beginning. What else am I gonna do now that my Sunday nights have a gaping hole in them?
Images: CBS (7), Jeff Neumann (5), David Giesbrecht (6), David M. Russell (6), Jeffrey Neira (5), Michael Parmelee (2), Paul Sarkis (2), Craig Blankenhorn (2), Heather Wines (2), Jojo Whilden, John Paul Filo/CBS