Every TV viewer has his or her short list of shows. The ones they would take to a desert island. Binge watch on a sick day. The shows they’ve seen every episode of—most likely multiple times.
For me that list includes Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beverly Hills 90210 (never underestimate the power of Luke Perry’s eyebrows) and The Good Wife. So I was delighted, apprehensive and cautiously optimistic when, shortly after The Good Wife ended, CBS announced a spin-off. Sure The Good Wife ended disastrously, with the slap heard ‘round the DVRs. But when the show was good, it was very, very good—and when it was bad, well, it was still better than most things on television.
Picking up a year after the events of The Good Wife finale, The Good Fight, which gets a special premiere this Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS, finds Diane (Christine Baranski) is ready to retire and purchase a house in France. That is, until she finds out she’s lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme and needs to keep working. We’ve seen Diane vulnerable and at a disadvantage before. But never quite like this.
Diane, now a legal pariah—having recommended the Ponzi scheme investment to The Chicago Women’s Fund and other high profile clients—has limited options. And she wants to continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which she is accustomed (that flawless hair and those stellar outfits don’t pay for themselves). She joins a firm headed up by Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo), where partner Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel) is less than thrilled to have Diane aboard but Lucca (Cush Jumbo) knows Diane is an asset to any firm. Diane brings her goddaughter, Maia (Rose Leslie), with her.
Maia, a first year associate, is this series’ Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles). Like Alicia, Maia is in the midst of a scandal she’s not responsible for—Maia’s parents (Paul Guilfoyle and Bernadette Peters) are at the heart of the Ponzi scheme. And, like Alicia, she’s got a lot to prove. The Good Wife spent much of its first season exploring whether or not Peter (Chris Noth) was innocent; The Good Fight appears poised to find out if Maia’s parents are as guilty as they appear.
There are fun inside jokes for longtime fans (check out the current name of Lockhart Lee), some classic The Good Wife sight gags (there’s a bathroom door that opens right into Lucca’s office), and the usual long delay until the opening credits—it clocks in after the 20-minute mark in the series premiere.
Yes, The Good Fight isn’t exactly reinventing the remote control here. Pick you analogy—the choir, the converted, they’re preaching to it. The beats on the show are familiar, as are the urgent musical cues. But there was a reason we all loved The Good Wife. Few series have so delicately and deftly balanced the legal case of the week with inner-office politics, personal strife and ongoing intrigue. The Good Wife explored hot-button, ripped-from-the-headlines topics in a non-Law & Order way. In the first two episodes available for review, The Good Fight takes on police brutality and interrogation tactics.
With their summer series BrainDead canceled, The Good Wife creators Michelle and Robert King return here as showrunners. The world the Kings spent seven seasons creating is rich. Characters easily, believably and organically weave in and out of The Good Fight. Of course we would get to see Christine Lahti’s Andrea Stevens again. Obviously Denis O’Hare’s Judge Abernathy would be back. It totally tracks that Julius (Michael Boatman) would be at Diane’s new firm. David Lee (Zach Grenier) is going to David Lee and (God bless him), Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler) hasn’t changed one bit. Soon, Carrie Preston’s beloved Elsbeth Tascioni will show up. The show smartly figured out a way to make fan favorite Marissa (Sarah Steele) a series regular. We get an update on the status of Diane’s marriage (Gary Cole’s Kurt McVeigh returns). And although we don’t know quite what Alicia is up to these days, she’s mentioned a few times. When a beloved series ends, you want to think of the characters’ lives continuing—it’s just that viewers aren’t around to see it. The Good Fight brings that sentiment to life.
There’s something so comforting and familiar about the show, like curling up with a book by your favorite author. Except, that is for the swearing. Now that they’re on CBS All Access, Diane et al. are free to let the f-bombs fly. And, yes, there’s something deeply satisfying in hearing Diane Lockhart say “Fuck!” My word of caution for the series is that just because your characters can swear doesn’t mean they have to. By the second episode, the profanity has been cut down, which suits the series and the characters.
As characters to spin off, Lucca and Diane are the right choices. Viewers were just getting to know Lucca when The Good Wife ended and she remains a bit of a mystery (although not as much as Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda). Jumbo exudes a palpable confidence that’s fun to watch. And Diane, always a class act, is a character I would follow anywhere. (Although she sports a surprising lack of brooches. Perhaps she had to sell them all since she’s short on cash?). As a burgeoning lawyer who is smart but lacks confidence, Leslie is a great addition.
After premiering on CBS, the show moves exclusively to CBS All Access, where it will cost viewers $5.99 a month (with commercials) and $9.99 a month (without commercials) to watch the show. Unlike the Netflix and Amazon model, CBS All Access plans on releasing a new episode every Sunday. Right now, the promotion CBS All Access seems to be offering is one free week. The only new shows the streaming channel will have is a digital version of Big Brother and Star Trek: Discovery in May. Is that worth $6 a month to people probably already paying for Amazon Prime or Netflix or Hulu? On the surface, it definitely seems like a flawed business model. Will I shell out the money? Probably.
In honor of Diane finally being able to swear, I can sum up my feelings about The Good Fight in four words: I fucking love it.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .