‘The Good Fight’ Review: CBS’s Compelling New Legal Drama Deserves a Bigger Platform

     February 17, 2017

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Before I get into the virtues of The Good Fight — of which there are many — I have to pause and discuss CBS’s strategy for releasing the show. Initially, the broadcast network wanted to debut its premium streaming service, CBS All Access, on the back of a new Star Trek series, Discovery. After that, its Good Wife spinoff series, The Good Fight, would be the next new series offered exclusively on All Access, which also hosts CBS’s entire back catalogue of programming. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Discovery was plagued with production delays, so The Good Fight was moved up.

As much as I like the show and the one it spun off from, I question the thinking of putting The Good Fight on CBS All Access to begin with. The Good Wife, though critically acclaimed, had a moderate viewership at best, and it’s unlikely that those fans will clamor to pay for a new series that is for them unproven. And if the idea is that they’ll want to already want to have All Access for when Star Trek: Discovery finally launches, well, is the crossover between these two show’s fandoms really that significant? Feels like a reach.

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Image via CBS

All of this is to say that I believe, vehemently, that The Good Fight should be airing on CBS proper, and available for all to see without extra payment. It’s a fresh take on The Good Wife model, and one that puts women and minorities first. To relegate it to an online paid service feels like exactly like the kind of marginalization that this show is fighting against.

As to the particulars of The Good Fight, they are thus: Good Wife staple Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) is ready to retire from the now merged firm of Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert, Lurie, Kagan, Tannenbaum, and Associates, and move to the Italian countryside. But just as she’s about to sign the papers, she finds out that, in fact, she’s broke. Her money is either gone or frozen, thanks to the Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme of a close family friend, whose daughter — Diane’s goddaughter, Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) — just started working for the firm.

The first episode of The Good Fight explores the fallout from this, while also managing to sneak in a legal case. It’s what made The Good Wife so, well, good — that balance of character drama and legal drama. Both women are in downward spiral for very different reasons, but they leave the firm together for new shores, that of an (otherwise) all-black firm, one where Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) also recently landed.

There are many thematic parts to The Good Fight that feel like the show from which it came. Like Alicia Florrick (who is named but will not appear in this series), Maia is an excellent lawyer, but she’s sometimes used as a pawn because of her family’s scandal. Diane is also starting down a few pegs below were she was when she was at her own firm, though not as far down as Alicia was in Season 1 of The Good Wife when she returns to law as a junior associate. But essentially, both shows feature women at tumultuous times in their lives, being called on to be tough and move on, even when they are at the brink of personal collapse.

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Image via CBS

Though there is no Juliana Margulies, there are plenty of other familiar faces on the show that makes it feel very connected to its predecessor. In addition to Lucca and Diane, Eli’s daughter Marissa (Sarah Steele), Diane’s estranged husband Kurt (Gary Cole), her former law partner David Lee (Zach Grenier), and quirky fellow attorney Elsbeth Tasconi (Carrie Preston) make regular appearances, alongside some familiar judges and lawyers. But The Good Fight is also completely its own story, especially in the character of Maia, who is just starting out and battling an unending sea of people who hate her because of what her father did (or is accused of doing).

Leslie, Baranski, and Jumbo also do an excellent job leading the series, each providing compelling performances that feel new despite their appearances on the former show. They don’t have to be likable, but they are, and exceptionally so. And while so much feels the same, stylistically, about The Good Fight, there are a few things that feels like it’s leaning into because it’s not on CBS’s regular TV schedule, like the focus on the all-black firm and three female leads (one of whom is a lesbian, one of whom is black, and one of whom is 64 years old). Perhaps this is just my cynicism about network TV and CBS’s refusal to show any diversity in its regular programming, but it does feel like the show’s creators, Robert and Michelle King, are free to tell exactly the kind of story they want to. It’s still a procedural, but it’s a damn fine one — one worth paying for CBS All Access, even though it deserves so much more.

Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Women on top!

The Good Fight premieres Sunday, January 19th on CBS before moving exclusively to CBS All Access.


Television