The Good Fight (CBS All Access, Sundays) may be a spin-off from The Good Wife but its first two episodes are as good as anything from that show’s run.
The stunning two-hour premiere opens with characters and familiar, seamlessly integrating the two into a new environment – an environment without the Florricks, but with Diane Lockhart moving from the penthouse to the outhouse and back in a way that feels natural and unforced, and surrounds her with a new cast of equals that equals the one she’s moved on from.
The two-hour series premiere (the first hour of which is being broadcast on CBS to provide the maximum potential audience) finds Diane (Christine Baranski) planning her retirement – putting an offer in a charming villa in Provence, France, and taking on a police brutality case for Cook County.
Newly minted lawyer Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones) is starting her first day at Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, etc.. and being assigned to scutwork following an orientation walk & talk by David Lee (Zach Grenier). With two weeks until her retirement, Diane gives Rose, her goddaughter, an opportunity to help on her last case.
When a Ponzi scheme scandal hits her parents, Maia instantly becomes the most hated woman in Chicago – if only because her father (Paul Guilfoyle) is arrested and in jail. Despite her making a key contribution to Diane’s case, she’s fired – while Diane is wiped out financially, and her former partners won’t let her come back (Lee, slimeball that he is, celebrates).
Diane follows her out of the firm after the attorney for the defendant, Robert Boseman (Delroy Lindo) in the police brutality case offers her a partnership at his firm, Chicago’s leading African American law firm – but not before letting her old firm know where she’s going, and giving them that key piece of evidence. (In a cool twist, Boseman’s hiring of Diane could actually be a ‘diversity hire’!)
There are lots of interesting moments in the series premiere – not the least of which is Boseman’s firm’s managing partner, Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel, Justified), not being too keen that he ‘called an audible’ in hiring Diane. She doesn’t much care for Lucca Quinn’s (Cush Jumbo) input, either – and she asked for it!
The second half of the premiere finds Lucca and Maia taking on the case of a sportswear chain’s employee who says he was wrongly accused and forced to sign a confession to save his job.
Judging from the premiere, Diane, Maia, Boseman, Kolstad and Lucca look to be the primary players and they are an intriguing mix even before we include Maia’s girlfriend and reintroduce Diane’s ‘new’ assistant, Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) – who looks to be getting more and juicier things to do here.
As you would expect from creators Robert and Michelle King, there’s plenty of good legal wrangling mixed with an equally entertaining look at the lives of characters. The second hour even introduces a new concept to the show (and, I suspect, one that would have turned up on The Good Wife if it had continued): a pair of litigation financiers – forensic accountants who use a computer algorithm to decide which cases they will finance – and for how long and how much –and which they won’t.
The story of how Diane moves from her old firm to her new one is detailed sufficiently well that The Good Fight is a good place for those who never watched The Good Wife to come aboard.
Running on CBS All Access allows the writers to use some serious profanity – there are a few extremely well timed f-bombs – and a bit more skin – but other than the well-timed f-bombs (the first time Diane utters her first it is practically cathartic, not to mention appropriate).
Surprisingly, one of the best moments of the premiere is its opening scene – with Diane watching Donald Trump’s inauguration with growing disgust before turning off her TV. It feels like that is the last straw for her – the one that provokes her decision to retire (and get out of the country).
From then on, when things take a darker turn, they feel more inevitable than surprising – which, in turn, makes Diane’s rebounding (and her graceful exit from Lockhart,
Deckler, Gussman and etc… so satisfying.
Language aside, the series premiere of The Good Fight could be a network show – but it would be a hallmark network show.
After seeing the two-hour premiere (all that was made available for critics), it’s possible to see the show stretching the bounds of its premise a bit more deeply than it might have on network TV, but only as much as it absolutely has to.
Is it worth subscribing to CBS All Access? Yes, indeed, it is.
Final Grade: A