Robots don’t usually show up on TV unless it’s to ruin civilization—or unless the show is set hundreds of years in the future. And they’re usually sophisticated machines (Futurama’s Bender’s taste in booze notwithstanding).
But on CBS last night, a robot took a bold roll forward—into a door.
In the fifth-season premiere of The Good Wife, the halls of the law firm Lockhart/Gardner were stalked by a somewhat inept telepresence robot, a machine intended to be a physical avatar for someone working remotely. According to the Twitter account of the show’s writers, “Everyone loved it on the set. We kept running out of battery life because people loved playing with it.”
The fumbling robot, and the characters’ irritated and/or confused reactions to it, might not seem like great advertising for the technology, but the folks at Double Robotics were nevertheless proud to see their creation on primetime. David Cann, the CEO and co-founder of Double Robotics, says he's "fine" with "the Double" being used as "a sort of punchline." For both the operator of the bot and the co-workers in the office, there's a "learning curve" of sorts, he says. But after a day or two, "People get used to it. You’ve made all the jokes, you’ve done the kick-me signs, and then it’s back to work.”
In the clip below, you can see the bot in action briefly.
The clip also showed another high-tech subplot, involving metadata and surveillance. In this case, the NSA wasn’t involved—it was suspicious higher-ups who wanted access to call data and even texts.
It's not surprising that The Good Wife's season premiere included multiple tech-driven story lines. “The Good Wife has become revered among geeks, and for good reason: It offers the deftest portrayal of technology on TV. In fact, it may be the best force for digital literacy in pop culture right now,” Clive Thompson recently wrote on Wired. He goes on to explain:
In most shows, technology is painted as either implausibly superpowered (“Wait—enhance that image!”) or alarmingly dangerous. Procedurals have been particular offenders. On Law & Order, the Internet is mostly just a shadowy place where teens are lured to their death. On Person of Interest, government agencies use pervasive surveillance technology to predict malintent with pinpoint accuracy. The Good Wife avoids this Manichaean trap.
Or, as Emily Nussbaum put it in the New Yorker in 2012: "Put bluntly, 'The Good Wife' is to the digital debate as 'The Wire' is to the drug war."
The Good Wife doesn’t just use technology to construct legal cases, though. Social media plays a major role in the story lines surrounding Alicia’s children, Grace and Zach. Last night, for instance, Zach was flustered to learn that his sister had been included in a list of 10 hot politicians’ daughters posted on a site called Turbochap. (The Good Wife’s usual stand-in for Google is the wonderfully named Chumhum.)
But some of the show’s finest tech moments come in passing, as characters bump into new gadgets, sites, and ways of doing things—or as the tech itself bumps into characters, as was the case with the telepresence bot. It doesn’t have to be life-changing innovation, either, as this clip of a speakerphone bot shows: