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More than any other TV show this season, The Good Fight knows how to spin real-life news into ripped-from-the-headlines drama. Much as they did in The Good Wife, the show’s creators, Robert and Michelle King, tend to avoid giving lectures, and instead situate their characters in the middle of major news stories, then figure out how to make them scheme their way through it all. In the Trump era, that approach has gotten more potent than ever. “We make sure to satirize both sides, but things have tipped to such a degree that it would be false to suggest that there’s parity there,” Robert King told Vulture.
That idea drives The Good Fight’s second season, which depicts a world where the news has gotten so bizarre, the only solution is to get bizarre yourself. Diane Lockhart, the typically buttoned-up lawyer played by Christine Baranski, starts microdosing psilocybin, watches too much cable TV, and gets into the Korean martial art hapkido. Where she once loved the law, she now embraces opportunity. “Do the laws hold, and if they don’t hold, what do you do?” Robert King said of Diane’s mind-set. “I don’t think we approve of that. There’s an element of tragedy buried under a lot of comedy.”
Along that tragic arc, the Kings wove salacious news stories from the past year into their own, off-kilter universe. The lawyers at the heart of the CBS All Access series debate everything from a version of the Bachelor in Paradise scandal to the existence of the mythical “pee tape.” Vulture talked with the Kings about nine of the biggest headlines that got the Good Fight treatment, and the one they just couldn’t figure out how to crack.
The pee tape
The premise: The Reddick-Boseman firm works with Russian models who claim to have been involved in the infamous and alleged “golden showers” tape with Donald Trump. At first, the firm tries to verify if the tape is real, until Democratic operative Ruth Eastman (Margo Martindale) tells them it’s fake. Later, we learn it might just be real, and see Ruth shelving the tape for the 2020 race.
How it got on the show: “I can’t imagine why any show wouldn’t want to tackle that,” Michelle King said of the infamous story included in a dossier by British agent Christopher Steele claiming that, in 2013, Trump paid prostitutes to urinate on a Moscow hotel bed where President Obama had previously slept. The story has everything: It’s salacious, it’s surreal, it’s got a heck of a MacGuffin. It’s also hard to depict without getting in trouble for claiming that the pee tape really is real. “The writers room was wanting to pursue it, but what we always needed was a way in that is legal and is more about our show,” Robert King said. To that end, The Good Fight never reveals the purported tape, but instead lets us watch the characters watch it, as a yellow glow emanates from their laptops, in a nod to Pulp Fiction.
“Part of it is satirizing, what do you do when you have a presidency that is all about porn stars and golden showers?” Robert said. “Then, also, what can you say about an opposition that is turned on by finding that disgusting thing?”
The Bachelor in Paradise scandal
The premise: The firm investigates a scandal on the set of a reality show called Chicago Penthouse, after a producer shuts down filming amid concerns that one contestant, Melanie (Isabella Farrell), was too drunk to consent to sex with another drunk contestant. Melanie sues the network for disregarding her safety, but the network claims it isn’t responsible for her assault. However, Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) eventually finds footage from a third spy camera, revealing that a producer pulled Melanie’s unconscious body back to the hot tub where the assault took place.
How it got on the show: The Kings were fascinated by the Bachelor in Paradise story, and specifically how the issue of consent might play out within the unreality of reality TV. Joey Heartstone, one of the show’s writers, had gotten his start on Project Runway and helped them add a “layer of reality” to the episode. They also wanted to critique how those sorts of shows trick viewers into buying the fictions they create. “It’s this sense of reality TV and how it’s manufactured reality,” Robert said, “Which also you see how it’s played into the sense of our president being this great businessman. I still think the serious press still treats him as someone who created that show, when in fact he was cast in that.”
The premise: While the firm works for a broadcast network planning to air an exposé accusing a male movie star of sexual assault, Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) wonders if he gave preferential treatment to his ex-wife, Liz (Audra McDonald), when he was a guest lecturer at her law school — but only after Naomi Nivola (Keesha Sharp), the journalist behind the exposé, subtly calls out his behavior.
How it got on the show: “We wanted it to be nuanced,” Michelle said. “The best way to do that is to show that a character that we certainly love and admire also has something in his past he needs to reconsider.”
“We live in a world where we are dealing with female and male writers so closely in the writers room,” Robert King said. “You always go through, Did you shut somebody down too quickly? Did you prevent somebody from blossoming into a better writer by shutting them down? I think the show is best in my mind when it points out the subtle biases of characters.”
Aziz Ansari and the Shitty Media Men List
The premise: The firm works with a photographer who lost his job after a woman named him on a site called “Assholes to Avoid” and accused him of sexual misconduct during a date. Both parties agree on what happened during the date — he performed oral sex on her — but disagree on their interpretations. She claims he pressured her into sex; he believes it was mutual. As the firm investigates the case, the office argues about it, with many of the younger employees taking the woman’s side. Later in the episode, Diane confronts the woman behind the Assholes to Avoid list, who accuses her of being a bad feminist and betraying the cause.
How it got on the show: “Whenever there are arguments in the writers room, that’s when you know a topic is fertile,” Michelle King said, adding that the arguments in the Reddick-Boseman offices mirrored the ones happening among the show’s writers. “One can certainly do episodes of television about someone that breaks into a home and rapes a woman, but I don’t think there is any question about knowing that’s wrong,” Michelle said. “To be in areas where folks aren’t recognizing that their behavior is wrong is far more interesting to us.”
The Kings added that Diane’s confrontation with the woman behind the list was inspired by the fight between MSNBC host Ashleigh Banfield and Babe.net’s Katie Way, who wrote the Ansari story. “I remember there were some nasty lines in the letter [from Way to Banfield] about second-wave feminism,” Robert said. “It got into hairstyles,” Michelle added. “That argument was really potent in the room, there was a generational aspect and attitude toward who was right,” Robert said.
In the episode, Diane ultimately convinces the woman to take “Assholes to Avoid” down, but her position is mostly a practical one: She tells her to just hire a lawyer next time. “What’s fun, too, is when she recognizes that there’s a chance she was played,” Robert said, in reference to how the firm’s backers planed to bleed the site to death by suing them, a reference to Peter Thiel’s attacks on Gawker.
The premise: The DNC hires the firm to find the best strategy for impeaching Trump. Adrian wants to use the emoluments clause; Diane suggests obstruction of justice; Julius (Michael Boatman), a Republican, says they should wait to vote him out. Fed up with everyone, Liz declares they should go on the offensive, forgoing “when they go low, we go high,” and try to get Trump on everything.
How it got on the show: Originally, the Kings considered a season-long arc where Diane would consult on paths to impeachment, but they said it seemed too much like “preaching to the choir.” Instead, they settled on a debate about whether impeachment was a good idea in the first place, inspired by a writer’s suggestion that, essentially, the characters are fighting about how to stage a coup. “You’re just creating circumstances with each president where you could start with the premise of impeachment,” Robert said.
As with other story lines, the arguments in the writers room became the material for Reddick-Boseman’s debates, with Audra McDonald handling the big, frustrated aria at the end. “We felt like sometimes she’s been used on TV like almost a fairy godmother, the person who speaks with the most authority,” Robert said. “What we really wanted her to do was come as a Machiavellian.”
The premise: Worn down by the daily onslaught of Trump news, Diane disengages from reality by micro- and macrodosing psilocybin. In turn, she watches a series of cable news stories that teeter between reality and hallucination. For instance: that Trump is keeping a pig in the White House map room, that he might bring goats to a European summit, and that he has signed an order allowed “the planting of firecrackers in the rectums of grizzly bears.”
How it got on the show: Diane’s exhaustion mirrors the Kings’ own frustrations with the news. Robert remember their daughter telling them, last year, that “the White House press secretary just said that Steve Bannon can suck his own cock.” “First of all, that’s not terribly witty and your sense of humor is better than that, and second of all, that’s vulgar,” Michelle remembered responding, until their daughter explained she was directly quoting Anthony Scaramucci. “Of course, we had to go back and apologize to her when we realized she was simply telling us the truth.”
“Based on that,” Robert said, “we wanted these head-turning news stories that just had enough of a ring of truth that you go, ‘Oh wait, was that yesterday’s news?’” Occasionally, The Good Fight’s stories seemed prescient, though most veered into the extreme. “We have Donald Trump talking to mermaids, so I wasn’t overly worried that it was going to sound too real,” Michelle said.
What mattered to the Kings was making sure they also satirized how the Democrat response to Trumpian news plays into its absurdity. “When there’s a typo, for example, everybody reacts to it,” Robert said. In one episode, Trump says he’ll take “5 goats” (instead of “goals”) to a European summit, and Democrats call it out, so Paul Ryan says he can take goats to the summit if he wants. Everyone resorts to knee-jerk reactions and the situation spirals out of control. “That, I could see happening,” Robert said.
ICE and immigration
The premise: Immigration authorities go after Jay Dipersia (Nyambi Nyambi), the firm’s investigator, after he’s arrested on a minor charge. It turns out Jay was born in Nigeria and has a fake birth certificate, so the firm rushes to get him an Einstein visa — the same kind of visa granted to Melania Trump — before he’s taken into federal custody.
How it got on the show: “The problem we ran into with immigration is you are preaching to people who agree with you,” Robert said. The show found its solution by focusing on a threat to the firm’s “workplace family,” which turned the episode into a race against the clock as federal and state authorities battled over Jay.
“The artwork that you see in court and in Jay’s apartment that ends up getting him the visa, Nyambi Nyambi actually did that art,” Michelle added. “He’s a wonderful artist, so that was the thing that brought us to that plot point.”
The premise: Late in the season, Diane gets contacted by a mysterious porn star named Tara Strokes (Taylor Louderman), who tells her to “follow the women” in order to take down the Trump administration — a potential mystery for a future season. This advice also helps Diane solve a separate issue, involving a Trump-friendly federal prosecutor named Patrick Basehart (Enrico Colantoni): He is trying to indict her, so she plants a fake story about him having an affair with a former Trump mistress in the hopes that the president will hear about it, get jealous, and fire him. Once Fox & Friends picks up the story, it’s all but certain his job is gone.
How it got on the show: Earlier in the season, Diane joked that history is repeating itself as pornography, but finding the pee tape is “not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.” For this episode, the Kings decided to echo that with “visual and dialogue” nods to the 1976 movie All the President’s Men. “Instead of ‘the money’ as it is in All the President’s Men, it’s ‘the women.’ With this scandal in these administrations, they tend toward pornographic issues,” said Robert.
The premise: In a case against opposing attorney Solomon Waltzer (Alan Alda), the firm discovers that he’s using Facebook’s micro-targeting tools to send fake news to members of the jury. The jury swings in Solomon’s favor, but when the Reddick-Boseman lawyers confront him with evidence of the micro-targeting, he swears he’s too old to understand how it would work. Eventually, the case gets resolved with a piece of unrelated evidence, though Marissa later successfully micro-targets a judge with a fake news story about Jay’s artwork to get him an Einstein visa.
How it got on the show: As they’ve also shown on The Good Wife, the Kings are fascinated by the ways technology influences politics. “We’ve been following the Facebook stuff religiously. It’s a real worry about this downward spiral of partisanship, that people live in their bubbles,” Robert said. “One way to attack it — where you’re not preaching something everybody knows — is to see how micro-targeting could work on a jury.”
“It’s fun for us also because you get to see an actor in his ’80s be the person that’s using tech in a wily way,” Michelle added. “That hopefully subverts expectations as well.”
The one story that didn’t make it
“One we wanted to pursue this year is Kevin Williamson being fired from The Atlantic,” Robert said. “Just the tendency for people to dig up the worst things about each other to undercut careers and to purify the echo chamber of the right and the left. You see it a lot with the right, but it also seems to be happening some with the left. Purity is now more important than debate.”
The Kings said they couldn’t find an angle that fit the season, though they intend to keep thinking about the issue, and journalism in general, next year. The Good Fight’s season-two finale ends, after all, with a copycat murder of the type that plagued the show’s lawyers, this time targeting a reporter. “Journalism is the thing that should be least attacked these days,” Robert said, adding, “There is a tendency on editorial pages to only deliver what the New York Times audience or the Washington Post audience already wants. And that interests us. We can’t find a way to get it to work, but it interests us.”