One of the great pleasures of “The Good Wife” was keeping an eye on its giant cast of recurring performers. Over its seven seasons, which draw to a close Sunday night, the CBS show built a sprawling population of distinctive, humorous, and engaging characters, most of them played by memorable actors and actresses. The regular cast, including Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos, Zach Grenier as David Lee, and Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, was consistently good, but the stream of guest appearances helped the show stay fresh. Here are 10 of the best. Warning: I have not included Carrie Preston’s thoroughly scattered but brilliant Elsbeth Tascioni, a role for which she won a best guest Emmy. I know she has been the recurring favorite for many “Good Wife” fans, but I cringe when I see her and her neuroses coming. To me, she belongs on a broader series, something more like “Ally McBeal.” Sorry in advance, Elsbeth heads.
EVEL KNIEVEL ESQ.
Michael J. Fox as Louis Canning
Playing Alicia’s manipulative rival and, on rare occasion, ally, Fox found a way to use his disability as a dramatic and comic tool. He was an extraordinary addition to the show, delivering his best work in years. Watching him act against Julianna Margulies, with his constant body movements and shifting agendas and her almost preternatural stillness, was always a treat.
JUDGE LIBERAL McLIBERAL
Denis O’Hare as Judge Charles Abernathy
There have been a number of amusing judges on the show. But O’Hare made his grumpy, fussy leftie — a wholehearted supporter of Occupy Wall Street — into one of the best. He could be seen pacing the courtroom to stay awake. Props, too, to Ana Gasteyer, another of the show’s judges. She’s the one who made the lawyers say “in my opinion” after each statement.
THE INNOCENT PIRANHA
Mamie Gummer as Nancy Crozier
As the calculating lawyer who pretended to be innocent and harmless before she pounced and destroyed, Gummer was unforgettable. Each of the many times the perky Nancy faced off against Alicia, Gummer — who is Meryl Streep’s daughter — made her oh-so-wholesome shtick wonderfully entertaining.
THE FIERCE MOTHER
Martha Plimpton as Patti Nyholm
Plimpton won a best guest Emmy for her turn as one of the show’s many lawyer tricksters. And deservedly so. Patti used her pregnancy and later her new motherhood as a stalling tactic, and Plimpton played it all with snakelike intelligence. She gave us a lawyer freed up by the fact that nothing was sacred to her.
THE SMUG CHUM
John Benjamin Hickey as Neil Gross
As a billionaire tech mogul who founded a search engine called Chumhum, Hickey was a great jerk. The show was ahead of the curve in its take on the new legal twists that accompany high tech, and Hickey served as the perfect arrogant face for many of those cases.
THE GOOD BAD GUY
Mike Colter as Lemond Bishop
Underneath, Bishop was a vicious drug lord willing to off inconvenient people. But on the surface, he was calm and peaceful, a loving and protective father. Colter managed the dichotomy beautifully, creating a vision of evil with merely a hint of suppressed fury.
THE AMBIGUOUS CRACKPOT
Dylan Baker as Colin Sweeney
Baker made creepiness thoroughly entertaining as the rich client who engaged in twisted behavior and probably killed a few people along the way. He clearly had fun toying around with whether or not Colin was a murderer, and he provoked some amusing confusion in Margulies’s Alicia with his indifference. In a way, he was the show’s own Robert Durst.
THE FOCUSED VILLAIN
Anika Noni Rose as Wendy Scott-Carr
Rose brought an unrelenting quality to the scheming lawyer who desperately wanted to be state’s attorney but lost to Peter Florrick. Later, Scott-Carr led an investigation into Will with an eye toward taking down Peter.
THE FRENEMY EXTRAORDINAIRE
Rita Wilson as Viola Walsh
I love it when Wilson gets a good role, as she did here (and on “Girls,” as Marnie’s awful mother). As a lawyer and a very competitive old schoolmate of Diane’s, she was condescending, snarky, and provocative. She kept her resentment always at a steady simmer.
THE GIRLFRIEND FROM HELL
Dreama Walker as Becca
Young Zach blew it when he fell in with the sneaky Becca, who was leaking gossip about his family on Twitter. Walker delivered all the slimy two-facedness we could have hoped for from such a horrible character. Well done!
Also worth noting: Anna Camp as Caitlin D’Arcy, Christine Lahti as Andrea Stevens, Zach Woods as Jeff Dellinger, Linda Lavin as Joy Grubick, Margo Martindale as Ruth Eastman.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.