The first 30 seconds of The Good Fight consists of a single shot of Christine Baranski’s face as she watches the inauguration of Donald Trump. Reprising the role of Diane Lockhart, the attorney she played on The Good Wife, she absorbs the swearing-in ceremony with openmouthed shock. Then she snaps off the TV, rises from her sofa, and gets on with things.
Based on that opening, and the fact that Robert and Michelle King, co-creators of both Good shows, rewrote portions of their latest project after Trump won the election, one might assume The Good Fight will be an overtly political show. It isn’t, exactly, at least not in the initial two episodes released in advance by CBS. But it makes sense that the Kings felt compelled to adjust their approach to reflect an America reeling from the rise of Trump instead of watching Hillary Clinton shatter that highest glass ceiling. The Good Fight is a sharply written show about two women who are also reeling from unexpected upheavals in their personal and professional lives; it’s not inaccurate to say that in the pilot, they both get screwed over by old, rich, white men. Their experiences not only mirror the sense of postelection frustration and unease that has settled in, but also subtly acknowledge that Clinton’s defeat shook a lot of privileged white women out of their complacent comfort zones. As that opening implies, the series also conveys how important it is to shake things off and keep moving forward.
In the first episode of The Good Fight, the proverbial rugs are suddenly yanked out from under both Diane and Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie of Game of Thrones), Diane’s goddaughter, mentee, and the daughter of Henry Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle), a man accused of running a Bernie Madoff–esque Ponzi scheme that robs many Americans of all their savings, including Diane. “How can you work so hard every single day of your life and have nothing to show for it?” Diane despairs after realizing she’s broke, unable to retire from her law firm, and also unable to find a job, period. Maia has just started on the bottom rung at Diane’s old firm but gets fired and becomes the target of constant harassment as a result of the family scandal. In the first episode, “Inauguration,” both women are saved by offers to join Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad, the African-American-run Chicago firm where Diane’s former colleague, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), now works. “You can be our diversity hire,” Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman jokes with Diane while recruiting her to his team. They both burst out laughing.
At least in these initial couple of hours, The Good Fight doesn’t make a showy deal out of the fact that both Diane and Maia are in the minority at their new workplace, though it certainly acknowledges the dynamic, sometimes directly — one of Adrian’s partners, Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel), expresses frustration when she finds out Adrian offered Diane a partnership without consulting his colleagues — and sometimes in subtle moments of discomfort that flicker across these attorneys’ faces. The Good Fight establishes itself immediately as a series that’s confident in its characters — understandably, since it already knows some of them — and the viewer’s ability to pick up on nuance without needing to underline its subtexts in bright-red marker. The word that kept coming back to me as I watched the initial episodes was: intelligent. This is a show about grown-ups that treats its audience like grown-ups, too.
At this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I must make a confession: I never watched The Good Wife. I’ve seen a scene or two here and there, and I am familiar with some of the basic events that happened during that drama’s seven seasons, but I never watched it in full. I realize that many fans of that show will likely come to The Good Fight, which picks up about a year after The Good Wife concluded, looking for threads of continuity between the two. I know enough about the former to say that the reemergence of familiar faces on the latter — including Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) and Julius Cain (Michael Boatman) — will please them, as will the hat tips to those Good Wife characters who are no longer with us. (More than one image of the late Will Gardner pops up in these early episodes.)
But as someone who didn’t regularly watch the series that inspired The Good Fight, I can also say that this spinoff stands on its own just fine. After taking some time to establish the circumstances behind the Rindell scandal, the series digs into both the murkiness of what really happened there — Maia and Diane both seem skeptical about the involvement of Maia’s mother, played by Bernadette Peters — and the business of practicing civil law on behalf of the little guy, a Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad specialty. Maia, who has only recently passed the bar, gets thrown into the thick of things very quickly, and Leslie, most famous for her role as Ygritte on Game of Thrones, perfectly captures her wobbliness and the way she’s constantly cracking and gluing her pieces back together.
Honestly, everyone in this cast is excellent, especially Jumbo, who plays Lucca as a woman who has every reason to roll her eyes at the people around her but regularly manages to overcome that impulse and, of course, Baranski, whose Diane is shaken but nevertheless sturdy.
While the first episode of The Good Fight will air on regular, old-fashioned CBS this Sunday night at 8, the remaining installments will roll out weekly on CBS All Access, the network’s digital platform. It’s unclear whether viewers will follow along and subscribe to that streaming service. But it is clear that The Good Fight is a very, very good show that’s worthy of commitment. If CBS wants its broadcast audience to also become habitual users of All Access, this smart spinoff makes for a pretty enticing gateway drug.