The Good Fight strikes the perfect tone: while this reboot is invigorated by its history, it is no longer confined to being a one-woman-show. Finally – it’s a spin-off worth watching.
The Show: The Good Fight
The Network: CBS All Access
The Genre: Legal drama, spin-off
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
Premise: Set one year after the dramatic Good Wife finale, The Good Fight manages to successfully expand on the existing universe without tarnishing its legacy. After an unsuccessful marriage and an unexpected Trump presidency, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) decides to retire as name partner from one of Chicago’s leading law firms. As a final act of kindness, Diane offers to mentor her god-daughter Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) during her last weeks in office.
When Maia’s father (Paul Guilfoyle) is arrested for running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, Diane is unceremoniously ousted from her firm as both her savings and her legacy are wiped out. After being labeled “poisonous” because of her close ties to the Rindells, it is opposing counsel Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) who is prepared to take her and Maia in. The show also brings back favorites such as Elsbeth Tascioni (Bernadette Peters), Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry) and Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele).
#1: This spin-off offers a new take on an existing universe.
The reason this show works so beautifully is because it just makes so much sense. In our experience, reboots tend to fail because they are either exactly the same or completely different from the original show. While the pilot is a little heavy on exposition, it’s a necessary evil.
The Kings devised a masterful strategy for launching their Good Wife spin-off. They took it slow – and it paid off. Instead of launching the show with a batch of new characters, they gave us time to reconnect with Diane. At the beginning of the pilot, things were as we last left them: Diane’s relationship with Kurt (Gary Cole) was on the rocks and David Lee (Zach Grenier) was still feasting on M&M’s. The first hour documents the transition from The Good Wife into The Good Fight, shedding any excess baggage and effectively draining the swamp.The Good Fight really starts at episode two, but taking the time to ease the audience into this new environment was a clever move.
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The show never cuts ties with the past as much as it feeds on it. It aptly brings along only the elements that enrich this particular story, leaving behind those that don’t. The secret that makes The Good Fight feel so close to the original lies within its set-up. Both shows explore what happens when a woman unwillingly falls victim to scandal.
Where The Good Wife opened with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) being launched into the national spotlight, its successor focuses on the more intimate side of things – which is satisfying as we never really got to see Diane’s emotional side. While the first season of The Good Wife explored the political nature of its scandal, this spin-off investigates the personal lives of the people touched by it – explaining why we ended up with three leading women instead of just one.
For anyone who’s ever wondered – this is how you create a successful spin-off.
#2: Cyberbullying and fake news: 2017’s most damning villains are no longer human.
Sometime before Election Night, The Kings pitched The Good Fight to a room full of executives over at CBS. While Diane Lockhart – The Good Wife’s powerhouse – lost most of her legacy, she would find redemption in starting over as she learned what it meant to be on the right side again. A few months after the election, Robert & Michelle King were forced to drastically alter their pitch as we saw Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
The Good Fight was no longer a story of redemption – but one of awareness.
The unexpected political climate drove The Kings to peel back an extra layer of substance, identifying the issues rather than fighting them. It makes you wonder what this spin-off would have looked in a different political climate. Would it still have felt this current? While the show feels less like entertainment now and more like a social critique, the election of Donald J. Trump adds conflict and tension – and that’s always a good thing.
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What’s interesting about the show being set in today’s political climate is that we get to explore characters in a different light. While Julius Cane (Michael Boatman) served only a minor role in The Good Wife, it is obvious he has been given a larger part in its successor. While his character remains underdeveloped, he has now effectively become the pro-Trump voice in an all-black law firm.
Interesting? Sure. Well-executed? Not really. Not yet. While his opposing views could potentially examine why African-Americans would vote for a man like Trump, this show only uses Cane’s political beliefs when convenient – disregarding any storylines that explore his motivations. The Kings could have turned this into groundbreaking television but instead opted to utilize him as a foil – for now.
#3: The Good Fight successfully employs past villains to tackle current issues.
When The Good Wife introduced Matthew Perry’s character back in season three, he served almost exclusively as a foil to protagonist Alicia Florrick. Even when he reappeared in season four, the character remained tragically underdeveloped – failing to make a lasting impact on the show. While Kresteva had the potential to become one of The Good Wife’s most dreaded villains, his arcs were cut short in favor of other tedious plot points that didn’t drive the story forward.
Bringing back the character is an appropriate – albeit risky – move from the producers of this spin-off. On the one hand, there is tremendous potential to develop this part properly by humanizing Kresteva – finally providing some insight into his motives. On the other hand, he could fall victim to the writers’ old tricks and continue to be a one-dimensional character – in which case there’s no use in bringing him back at all.
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Kresteva isn’t the only character to make an appearance on The Good Fight. While judge Abernathy (Dennis O’Hare) was featured in the first episode, it was the return of Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston) that we were looking forward to the most. Even though she is not a villain herself, she is just as immoral as any other lawyer on the show – recording conversations left and right. Tascioni’s arcs always feel the same but never bore the audience. While we have already seen the “quirky lawyer unexpectedly fights off the bad guys” routine quite a few times, it never fails to inject the show with a much-needed sense of humor. Especially when confronted with Mike Kresteva’s cynicism, Tascioni thrives as the two have finally met their match.
Final Verdict: Dog Days are over as Diane learns what it means to be on the right side of things again
One thing that The Kings have mastered with this show is blending the past with the present. While they – appropriately – bring back familiar faces (judges, guest actors, etc.) on a regular basis, they do so in a carefully constructed way. Instead of emphasizing the return of those fan favorites, the writers rely on them only to touch upon recent themes and topics of public concern. It’s a clever way to bring new ideas and characters into the show without actually alienating the core fanbase.
Here’s what sets The Good Fight apart from its predecessor: it’s no longer a one-woman show. When The Good Wife dominated airwaves, most of its supporting cast served as a plot device to further develop Alicia’s story. In this reboot, most of the characters rightfully stand on their own. While powerhouse Christine Baranski gets top billing, the show is not just hers to carry. In its first four hours, The Good Fight offers something that the original show lacked at times: character development and subtlety. Instead of offering up a clear winner in court, this spin-off showcases refinement as it implies no one really ever wins a lawsuit. All in all, The Good Fight is off to a Good Start. Successfully blending the past and the present, CBS did the right thing rebooting this show. While The Good Wife casts a big shadow, its spin-off is already emerging as a giant of its own kind!