For several seasons, The Good Wife offered fraught legal drama, scored by tension-building classical strings and anchored by a number of strong performances. The show derailed in its final few years, and its spin-off The Good Fight appears designed to only bring to mind The Good Wife’s glory days. We are visited by a familiar setup: A woman gets caught in a scandal and has to start her entire life over as a lawyer. For Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick, it was her husband’s sex tape with a prostitute. For The Good Wife’s best character and Good Fight’s main one—Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart—she loses all of her money in a Bernie Madoff-like scandal on the eve of her retirement. She’s joined in her plight by her goddaughter, the Madoff character’s daughter, Maia, a mincing, plucky ingenue that’s almost a staple in legal dramas like these. Rounding out their trio is another Good Wife vet, Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn.
Alicia gets name-dropped a few times, which casts a weird shadow over The Good Fight’s beginning. Other than that, the many familiar faces like David Lee (the always-welcome Zach Grenier), Julius Cain (Michael Boatman, same), and eccentric judges almost make it appear like The Good Wife just took a brief hiatus: The logos, the promos, the office sets, and most defiantly the soundtrack, seem the same. Even Eli Gold’s resourceful daughter Marissa (Sarah Steele) shows up and quickly finds a way to maneuver herself in as Diane’s assistant. There’s a lot of swearing on these Good Fight screeners, which will apparently show up on CBS All Access, where the show will reside after its inaugural episode on broadcast CBS Sunday night. And the guitars that kick off the second episode offer a brief respite from the violins. But the credits that roll in at the 20-minute mark will, again, seem very familiar.
In The Good Wife tradition, we can look for engaging courtroom cases pulled from current headlines, like this Madoff business, a class-action suit in the pilot based on a controversial interrogation method, and a police brutality case. Showy guest stars are also still in play: Christine Lahti shows up as an absolute shark who attempts to intimidate our team on a case. Delroy Lindo is also entertaining as a grandstanding partner for a rival firm. Bernadette Peters plays Maia’s mom, the faux-Madoff wife. And as far as entertaining legal gymnastics goes, showrunners Michelle and Robert King are practically unrivaled.
It was also wise of the Kings to double-down on Baranski. As on her previous series, she’s absolutely riveting as Diane. She’s even more engaging to witness in this predicament than Julianna Margulies was as Alicia: We watched as Alicia briefly floundered, then soon righted herself and created a new persona. We know that Diane, the ultimate survivor, has no need for reinvention, and will soon come back roaring like the lion she is, even as she is momentarily knocked out by her financial destruction. Perhaps the most welcome appearance in the first two episodes is Gary Cole’s brief scene as Diane’s estranged husband Kurt: Sure, he cheated on her, as revealed in The Good Wife’s explosive denouement. But the heated chemistry between the two reminds us why they were such an undeniable couple in the first place, even as they resided on opposite ends of the political spectrum. To that end, the Kings have never been subtle about dragging the current political landscape into their shows: Diane’s slack-jawed response watching Trump getting elected speaks for all of us. When she’s unpacking her office and her assistant asks Diane if she wants to hang on to her picture with Hillary Clinton, Diane snatches it back defiantly and barks, “Definitely.”
The Good Fight is off to a bright and brainy beginning, even if it seems a bit rote. We also can appreciate a show focusing on three female leads, with the main one outside of the usually key 18-34 demographic. But Rose Leslie’s stammering and insecurity as Maia seems even more cloying juxtaposed against Diane’s comforting strength and Lucca’s energetic ferocity. Maia has an equally adorable girlfriend, who happens to be an assistant state’s attorney, conveniently keeping our ties to that particular legal branch open. But The Good Fight would do well to distance itself a bit further from its predecessor to help develop its own imprint: Baranski has proved that she is up for that challenge.
Created by: Michelle King, Robert King
Starring: Christine Baranski, Rose Leslie, Cush Jumbo, Justin Bartha, Delroy Lindo, Sarah Steele
Debuts: Sunday, February 19 at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS, then streaming on CBS All Access
Format: Hour-long legal drama
Two episodes watched for review
Reviews by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya will run weekly.