The Good Fight, CBS’s new spinoff of The Good Wife and the first high-profile scripted series exclusive to its streaming service, CBS All Access, occasionally feels a like a sheltered kid going off to college.
It’s as though Robert and Michelle King, the creators and showrunners of both series, have left the rules of broadcast television for the relative freedom of cable. The episodes are a little bit longer (48-50 minutes, as opposed to network TV’s 40-42), the storytelling is just a touch more serialized, and everybody says “fuck” a lot more. Indeed, in the (quite good) first episode, this is what’s most glaring about the show — it’s free of its old restrictions, and it wants everybody to know it.
The Kings spent seven seasons of The Good Wife mostly making the case that broadcast networks could still be a source of compelling, adult drama. Theirs was a show that worked within the constraints of content regulations, regular ad breaks, and the need to have a case of the week each week, but still told smart stories about America in the Obama era.
Now — and fittingly so in the coarser Trump era — The Good Fight distills much of what was good about its parent series into a smaller, blunter package. It’s another tony, high-class drama about upper-class Chicagoans. (The Good Wife largely stayed on the air for so long because its ratings among upper-class households were so good.) But it’s also about the upper-crust confronting its own impotence in the face of a world that’s calling for change.
The Good Fight centers on people who grew a little lazy off their own presumed righteousness, and now find themselves back in the political fray. It’s not yet a great show, but it has the bones to become one.
The Good Fight tackles the Trump era in the way its parent series tackled the Obama era
The Good Wife was sneakily one of the smarter shows on TV in the way it broke down the hypocrisies of rich liberals during the Obama era. The longer the show ran, the more its characters became morally compromised — they had the ideals they claimed to stand for, but their own self-interest (in the form of all the money that kept rolling in) inevitably caused them to compromise, at first here and there and then all over the place.
The show wasn’t always subtle about this, and its tendency to filter every issue in the world through the viewpoints of rich people led to more than a few embarrassing episodes. But the implication was always clear: Here’s what’s kind of funny about how often rich liberals profess to be for something in theory, then oppose it when it directly impacts their own lives.
If The Good Wife was about liberal hypocrisy on some level, then The Good Fight is about why liberal values endure, even in the face of that hypocrisy. It only brings up Donald Trump once, in its opening shot, when Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski, reprising her character from The Good Wife) watches the new president’s inauguration with a stunned look on her face. But a clear sense of cataclysm, of everything that was once taken for granted being torn to shreds, pervades throughout.
What’s fascinating about this is that The Good Fight was mostly conceived in the pre-Trump era (though it began shooting the week of the election). What lays Diane low and forces her to keep working when she had planned to retire is falling victim to a Bernie Madoff-style scheme that leaves her scrounging for cash. (Her unexpected financial hardship means she doesn’t have enough to buy a French villa; it isn’t exactly “can’t find the spare change to buy a Big Mac” on the scale of financial cataclysm.) And if there’s anything that feels “of the Obama era” about the show, it’s “a Bernie Madoff-style scheme.”
But that’s almost beside the point. The Good Fight uses that as a springboard to send Diane off to join a new law firm — one that seems to have majority black leadership (in the form of actors Delroy Lindo and Erica Tazel) and also apparently represents more working-class clients than the firms on The Good Wife did, if the first two episodes are any indication — and introduce some new friends. Diane is joined by Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), also previously of The Good Wife, as well as new character Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie). Maia is the daughter of The Good Fight’s spin on Madoff, who finds her young law career hampered by the accusations against her father. The series’ story is about what happens when you’ve been cornered and have to fight back.
The Kings’ greatest strength as writers has always been the way they seem tapped into what’s going on in the country, on an almost primal level. That The Good Fight shifts its primary focus from The Good Wife’s world of politics to the world of corporate and business machinations is a smart choice. It still shares DNA with The Good Wife (which often dealt with corporate malfeasance), but also opens up new territory to explore, something The Good Wife sorely lacked in its last two seasons.
The Good Fight’s expanded purview also helps to carry it through its clunkier portions, by providing it with something that all spinoffs need but too few have: a reason to exist. Divorced from the story of Alicia Florrick, there are still plenty of interesting things to explore in The Good Wife universe, and plenty of interesting characters to explore them with.
Most of all, though, it’s just nice to be back in America, as seen by the Kings. Their writing remains sharp and witty. Their knack for telling stories through crisp visuals gives The Good Fight a high-gloss sheen. And their antennae are still tuned to hidden vibrations in the country’s subconscious, picking up on the tremors that are about to become earthquakes.
The Good Fight’s first episode airs Sunday on CBS at 8 pm Eastern. Subsequent episodes will be available exclusively on CBS All Access.