There aren’t many examples of a spinoff surpassing the original in quality; most of the time, the best a spinoff can hope for is to be considered just as good as the predecessor — “Better Call Saul” living up to the enormous shoes left behind by “Breaking Bad” isn’t damning with faint praise, it’s a success story — but after a couple of episodes, “The Good Fight” seems to be taking the solid foundation laid by “The Good Wife” to new heights — and besides, is it really a “better than” or “equal to” when so much of the original DNA remains?
We’ll find out Sunday (Feb. 19), when the show airs its first hour on CBS and then moves to the network’s digital arm, CBS All Access. But if you ask us, we’re more than halfway there already — we love the show, and probably even more because of our devotion to “The Good Wife.”
First off, enough cannot be written in praise of “Fight’s” cast. Yes, “The Good Wife” had a great cast as well, but the story’s bones were the love triangle between Alicia (Julianna Margulies), her philandering husband, Peter (Chris Noth) and her old flame, Will Gardner (Josh Charles) — it’s even in the title. There’s not a similar conflict here, and the show is much stronger for it.
“Fight” focuses on a cavalcade of wonderful women: Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo as the leading spinoff figures, joined by Sarah Steele, who recurred on “The Good Wife’s” final two seasons after a brief appearance early on. They’re joined here by newbies Rose Leslie, a solid performer with the dashing double credits of “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones,” and the wonderful Erica Tazel, an underrated player in “Justified’s” ensemble for six seasons.
They are thrown together at a law firm after a financial scandal leaves Diane Lockhart broke and Leslie’s Maia a social leper, the daughter of the accused Ponzi schemer. It’s immensely satisfying to see an ensemble anchored by two women of color, a lesbian character in Maia, and an actress/character over 60… But what’s even more satisfying is that hardly a mention is made of their love lives — because guess what? They have plenty going on, without any romantic tension required.
No, the show doesn’t ignore their relationships outside of work, since they are human beings — Maia has a girlfriend; Diane is in some sort of separation limbo with Kurt (Gary Cole) after his long-telegraphed infidelity — but those are character details, not the plot points that drive the story.
And while “The Good Wife” certainly turned in some stellar episodes and acting work revolving around Alicia’s (Julianne Margulies) love life, it could sometimes get bogged down in them as well — while Alicia was a fascinating character study and a meditation on stillness, sometimes the audience’s invitation to read her mind meant taking the long way around when it came to decoding her very conflicted emotions… Especially when she couldn’t do it herself, of course. In any case, it’s refreshing to see this story steer the other way.
And secondly, the move to CBS All Access is key. No, a show doesn’t have to be on cable or premium to be good — “The Good Wife” was the shining example of this, especially in its early seasons — but there is something to be said about an adult drama getting to be more, well, adult. Does that mean “The Good Fight” should lean in and start dropping F-bombs every other sentence and stage some salacious sex scenes? Nah, because that’s not the tone of the show. But being able to dabble in those arenas, the way real adults do every day, gives “The Good Fight” the adult feel that “The Good Wife” sometimes couldn’t quite pull off.
Finally, and unavoidably, “The Good Fight” — simply by its makeup, mission and title alone — takes on larger meaning in the current state of the union. Like “The Good Wife,” it doesn’t operate in some fictionalized version of the present, ChumHum and other fake websites aside: It operates in the real present. “Fight’s” premiere episode shows Diane watching Trump’s inauguration.
And every script but the pilot was written post-election, so these liberal-leaning Chicago lawyers are dealing a political climate that may be hostile toward them: Something the show very much leans into.
“I think the interesting thing is you have a lead character who is in moral, kind of practical, freefall — in a similar way to what the country is feeling right now. Like, how do you take the next step up when there’s no foundation? Where are we? Where are we morally?” star Baranski told the TCA winter press tour back in January.
Creator (and militant centrist, based on latter seasons of “Good Wife” and the entirety of “BrainDead”) Robert King adds that it’s not going to be “anti-Trump, anti-Trump, anti-Trump,” but more about how the changing culture effects these characters.
“More of the concern is how the culture changes with ‘false news’… The kind of confusion between what’s real and what’s not real,” says King. “So I think that’s particularly interesting in this show, because the legal parts of the show are not really about finding the truth. They are about who tells the best story. It’s always been about who puts across the bigger lie or the better lie, the more convincing lie — so it kind of plays into what we love.”
Plus, they would be remiss if they did not mine the current political climate for a bit of comic relief as well. King explains that Lindo and Tazel’s characters are worried that their predominantly African-American law firm is going to lose government-supported contracts under this new administration, “So they try to find one of the African-American lawyers in their firm that voted for Trump, and it’s a comic bit where Michael Boatman, playing Julius Cain, has to admit that he did. And as much as they embrace that, because they really need that person, there’s also where everybody is like, ‘Uhh…?'” says King with a laugh.
What it all adds up to is that two episodes in, we’re all in: “The Good Fight” looks terrific and, dare we say, better than its predecessor — a high bar to clear, indeed, but the kind of worthy goal that can lead to great art.
“The Good Fight” arrives on CBS All Access every Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT; Season 1 will total 10 episodes.