One needn’t always perk up at the words “But wait, there’s more!” which is why it might have seemed, only nine months ago, as if we’d had our fill of the fictional Chicago law firms, courtrooms and political squabbles seen in seven seasons of Robert and Michelle King’s hit CBS drama “The Good Wife.” Even the most faithful watchers were ready to move on.
But what do we know? With remarkable turnaround, the Kings and their collaborators have delivered a spinoff drama, “The Good Fight,” which, in its first two episodes, proves to be a more-than-worthy successor, with the potential to surpass the original. That’s the good news.
The bad news (depending on how much you’re currently spending on your TV addiction) is that “The Good Fight” will only be available through CBS All Access, the network’s subscription streaming site that costs $5.99 a month — make that $9.99 if you want it commercial-free. Taking a page from the huckster handbook, the first taste is on the house: CBS will air a slightly edited version of the pilot episode Sunday night to lure you in, and the remaining nine episodes will be released weekly on the pay site.
That’s a little irksome, especially for those of us already paying for the privilege of watching CBS on cable or satellite. And yet consumers all but asked for this situation, first by demanding a-la-carte options from their cable providers (which never came to pass), and then, as Netflix and others revolutionized the streaming experience, cutting their cords with zeal. CBS is wise to elbow in on this action.
So, with that fine print out of the way, let’s get back to appraising “The Good Fight.” Set a year or so after “The Good Wife’s” slaptastic finale, we catch up with Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) at the top of her game. Her law firm, Lockhart Gardner, has merged with two other firms, creating a top-heavy mumbo-jumbo of partners. (Their names barely fit on the lobby wall.) Sensing it’s a good time to retire and get away from her displeasure at Donald Trump’s election win, Diane is shopping for a country villa in France while she works toward a settlement in her last case, representing the city in a police brutality case.
Then her world falls apart. A lifelong friend, Henry Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle), a prominent investor who manages Diane’s personal fortune, is arrested and accused of running a Bernard Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. Learning that she’s broke, Diane blurts out the f-word with the thrilling emotion of a character who is no longer on broadcast TV. (I guess CBS will have to bleep it out during Sunday’s airing.)
Diane asks for her job back, but she’s shown the door by her weaselly partners, including David Lee (Zach Grenier) and Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler).
As it happens, Rindell’s daughter, Maia (Rose Leslie, who played Ygritte on “Game of Thrones”), has been working as a new associate in Diane’s firm — thanks to strings Diane had pulled for her. Maia is now also out of a job and bereft at the possibility that her father (and maybe also her mother, played by Bernadette Peters) were part of such a massive crime. The first treat in “The Good Fight” is to see how instantly good Leslie is as a rookie lawyer faced with an overwhelming personal crisis. The show could easily be built around her — and it sort of is.
Baranski, of course, is a force all her own; fans will enjoy watching Diane pick herself up and start anew. Her rescuer comes in the form of Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo), Diane’s opposing attorney on the police brutality case and a partner at a law firm that prides itself on its all-black staff. Convincing his colleagues — among them Diane’s former employee, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) — that she would be a strong “diversity hire,” Lindo makes Diane a junior partner. Maia also winds up working there on the lowest rung. And before long so does Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele), and, as we get back to the courtroom, a host of familiar judges and attorneys from “The Good Wife” universe begin to reappear.
Still, the show is by no means a retread. There are shifts in storytelling and core values that are different from “The Good Wife” and make judicious use of new freedoms to be a little more risque. Most notable is the way “The Good Fight” becomes an intriguing drama about life at a minority-owned law firm, where the money, clients and a sense of justice are not as easily won as they were at Diane’s old job.
On its broadcast network, CBS may or may not have had the gumption to roll out a new one-hour drama about black lawyers — and that’s not exactly what it’s done here, either, using the firm more as a backdrop than center stage. It’s a subtle but effective use of diversity that continues to elude CBS in its on-air programming — which is all the more reason I wish “The Good Fight” was airing for free, where more viewers might catch it, instead of being offered as a fancy accessory.
The Good Fight (one hour) premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS. The remaining nine episodes will become available each Sunday on CBS All Access, a subscription streaming service.