×

TV Review: ‘The Good Fight’ on CBS All Access

It’s appropriate that “The Good Fight” has a slightly more jagged and splintered atmosphere than “The Good Wife,” the long-running CBS drama that starred Julianna Margulies.

The Good Wife” debuted eight months after the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president, and implicit in its worldview was the idea that a technocratic, centrist elite could solve almost every problem. Even in the midst of the thorniest cases, the show had a smooth assurance about how the world worked; undergirding its sprightly energy and acrobatic storytelling was a confidence that only rarely tipped into frustrating hubris. Watching smart lawyers enjoy their verbal jousting and engage in subtle but sexy flirting was often fun, and even when they lost cases — or messed up their love lives — they could safely retreat to an upscale bar to drink pinot noir and find solace in barbed irreverence and prickly friendships. No matter how badly things went for Alicia Florrick, it’s not like the world was ending. 

The Good Fight,” a spinoff of “The Good Wife” and the flagship of the streaming service CBS All Access, blows all that up. Literally. In the show’s opening credits, handsomely lit totems of the professional classes — an office phone, a leather handbag, a vase of tasteful flowers — explode. These images might be a bit too on-the-nose for some; one of the things that made “The Good Wife” addictive (and unusual for a broadcast network drama) was that it didn’t usually spell out subtexts audience members could grasp on their own. But there’s no doubt that the characters inhabiting the fractured landscape — and the somewhat divergent storylines — of “The Good Fight” live in a very different world than the one the Florricks knew. And no one’s existence has changed more than that of Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). 

In the opening minutes of the first episode, Diane watches as Donald Trump is sworn in as the nation’s 45th president. She snaps off the TV midway through the oath of office and goes to work, sure of her place in the world of connected Chicago lawyers and well-heeled Democratic donors. Before the 50-minute pilot is over, the jarring changing of the guard in Washington is the least of her troubles.

“The Good Fight,” doesn’t often refer to Alicia Florrick or to the Trump era in its first two episodes (the first will air on CBS; subsequent episodes will arrive weekly on CBS All Access). But one hopes that as its 10-episode first season gets underway in earnest, the show will have a field day with the kinds of newsy issues (privacy rights, spy-agency snooping, governmental overreach) that drove some of the liveliest installments of “The Good Wife.” These episodes do touch on matters relating to police violence and the legal world’s increasing reliance on algorithms and tech-sector funding. But most of the first two installments are spent demonstrating that “The Good Fight,” thematically and structurally, will be fairly different from its predecessor.

One of the most compelling aspects of the original show was that it depicted the moral journey of one woman — a wronged spouse and an increasingly canny operator who held her cards very close to her vest. When “The Good Wife” was operating at peak proficiency, it smartly showcased Margulies’ charismatic, savvy performance and its own commitment to depicting Alicia’s professional and emotional journey in all its ugliness, ambiguity and aspiration.

“The Good Fight,” on the other hand, has three centers of gravity, and it remains to be seen whether the show can successfully balance the storylines of its core trio and weave those plots together in ways that result in deeply rewarding, character-driven drama. The first two episodes are generally efficient and they display a familiar dry wit, and the cast is uniformly excellent. But “The Good Fight” has to incorporate a host of supporting characters and cases of the week into the backstories of its multiple leads, and the results are occasionally a bit bumpy and scattered. All in all, however, it’s a promising endeavor, even if the lead characters are so understandably stressed that it’s a pleasure to check in on amusing scene-stealers like Eli Gold’s enterprising daughter, Marissa (Sarah Steele), and Denis O’Hare’s delightfully eccentric judge.

Baranski brings a heartbreaking rawness to her performance as Diane, who never got enough meaningful screen time on “The Good Wife.” In the new show, Diane has lost everything in a Ponzi scheme and goes to work at a law firm in which most of her colleagues are African-American. The contours of the Madoff-like fraud story are a lot more predictable than the complex racial and personal dynamics at the new firm. One hopes that the latter gets more focus than the former, especially because storylines revolving around Diane’s new job give screen time to terrific actors like Erica Tazel and Delroy Lindo, who play law partners Barbara Kolstad and Adrian Boseman. In any event, one of the most unstable — and thus fascinating — elements of the new show involves the power dynamics on display in the new workplace, in which a white woman who had been used to exercising the power she fought to obtain has to subordinate her will to the people of color around her. Barbara and Adrian have their own agendas, and they seem just as likely to play hardball as any of Diane’s previous colleagues (a number of whom don’t feature prominently in the new show, and, truth be told, I won’t miss most of them). 

Cush Jumbo returns as the long-suffering Lucca Quinn, who ends up working alongside Diane, not always comfortably. Jumbo is a master of the seething-but-patient facial expression, and Lucca’s implacable endurance in the face of the condescension and dismissal of her co-workers was a highlight of the later seasons of “The Good Wife.” Lucca often comes up with creative ideas and solutions, and rarely gets (or expects) the attention she deserves for her wit and intelligence. In an echo of that slightly worrying pattern, the first two episodes don’t delve much into Lucca’s psychology or agenda (though one episode shows her lover’s bare behind; like a few swear words appropriately scattered into the dialogue, these are the benefits of inhabiting the anything-goes realm of streaming).

One hopes meaty Lucca-driven stories arrive soon: Half of the reason to stick with this show — and fans of solid legal dramas and aficionados of “The Good Wife” should do so — is to see whether it delves into her moral and psychological journey more deeply. As was the case with Alicia, Lucca makes her character’s silences and secrets as interesting as her decisive statements and actions.

The new member of the core trio is Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie), an inexperienced lawyer connected to the family who ran the Ponzi scheme. Like Lucca and Diane, Maia is a woman with something to prove, and Leslie does a fine job of depicting her character’s shock and her tremulous resolution to rebuilding her life.

What these women share — aside from screen time in a couple of reasonably interesting cases — is a determination to move on and make the best of the difficult new circumstances they find themselves in. But Alicia — and Obama — are like exes that cast a long shadow over the supposedly new lives of the people they left behind. Their absences leave large holes in the landscape, as well as people who feel demoralized when they cast their minds back to just a year or two ago. Diane’s plight is thus personal but also metaphorical: She likens the collapse of every pillar of her supposedly solid and trustworthy world to a nightmare. It’s a sentiment that many of this show’s viewers will understand.

But perhaps the most topical thing about this promising drama is that Diane and Maia, two privileged white women who are forced to wake up by events they can hardly believe, are beginning to learn what Lucca and Barbara already know. No one is especially inclined to fight for them, and if they want to survive, they will have to save themselves. Maybe these women can do that together, but the jury’s still out.

For an in-depth discussion of “The Good Fight” featuring creators Robert and Michelle King and star Christine Baranski, check out Variety’s Remote Controlled podcast.

TV Review: 'The Good Fight' on CBS All Access

Drama; 10 episodes (2 reviewed); CBS All Access and CBS, Sun., Feb. 19, 8 p.m. 60 mins.

Production:

Executive producers, Robert King, Michelle King, Phil Alden Robinson, Ridley Scott, David Zucker, Liz Glotzer, Brooke Kennedy, Alison Cross.

Crew:

Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justine Bartha, Paul Guilfoyle, Bernadette Peters

More TV

  • Nick Offerman Amy Poehler

    'Parks and Recreation' Cast Talks Possibility of a Revival at 10th Anniversary Reunion

    For one night, Hollywood felt a little like Pawnee. The cast of NBC’s hit comedy “Parks and Recreation” reunited at PaleyFest on Thursday in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. The whole Pawnee gang showed up: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Retta, and Jim [...]

  • "Raven's Home" Executive Producer, Eunetta Boone.

    Bob Greenblatt Pays Tribute to Eunetta Boone: 'Love Just Radiated From Her'

    Eunetta T. Boone was funny, sharp and extremely warm-hearted. That’s how WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt remembered Boone as he paid tribute to the showrunner who died Wednesday at the age of 63. Greenblatt worked with Boone in the early 2000s when he was partnered with David Janollari in the Greenblatt-Janollari Studio production venture. Greenblatt-Janollari [...]

  • Writer-Director Dominik Moll on Series Mania

    Writer-Director Dominik Moll on Series Mania Competition Contender ‘Eden’

    LILLE, France — “I must down to the seas again,” Amaré, an teen African illegal immigrant, reads aloud in a poetry lesson at a refugee center near the beach in Greece. Thoughts of wander-lust seen comically out of place. Amaré has just been seen in the prolog to “Eden” leaping out of a dinghy beaching [...]

  • John Simm Talks ‘Cold Courage' as

    John Simm Talks 'Cold Courage' as Lionsgate Boards International Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Simm plays a rabble-rousing populist politician in “Cold Courage,” and Lionsgate has stepped up and taken international rights to the series. Based on the series of novels by Pekka Hiltunen, the drama is billed as the biggest yet out of Finland and will bow on the Viaplay streaming service in Scandinavia. With a cast [...]

  • "Raven's Home" Executive Producer, Eunetta Boone.

    Eunetta Boone, Showrunner and Creator of 'One on One,' Dies at 63

    Writer-producer Eunetta Boone, creator of the UPN comedy “One on One” and showrunner of Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home,” died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 63. Boone was found dead at her home of an apparent heart attack. Boone had most recently worked as showrunner on the third season of the Disney [...]

  • Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Series

    Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Starring Dominic West Ahead of Series Mania

    The BBC and Masterpiece adaptation of “Les Miserables” will play on a numerous international channels after a raft of deals were sealed for the series, which features Dominic West, David Oyelowo, and Lily Collins. Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic has been acquired by broadcasters in Scandinavia and southern Europe, and by several buyers [...]

  • Kevin Hart

    TV News Roundup: Kevin Hart Netflix Comedy Special Drops First Trailer

    In today’s roundup, Netflix releases the official trailer for the comedy special “Kevin Hart: Irresponsible” and Josh Charles joins Showtime’s Roger Ailes series “The Loudest Voice.” DATES Season two of “Yellowstone,” starring Kevin Costner, will premiere on Paramount Network on June 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The sophomore season will continue the story of rancher John Dutton [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content