The world has gone mad, sure. But the senior partners at Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart foretell a return to normalcy. “I’ve had my fill of left-wing anger,” explains Liz (Audra McDonald). “I’m trying not to let politics get in the way of moving the firm forward,” declares Adrian (Delroy Lindo). “I’m happy,” are the doomed words Diane (Christine Baranski) says at the very beginning of the indescribably wonderful new season of The Good Fight (beginning March 14 on CBS All Access.)
Don’t get too comfortable. Chaos reigns. For Diane, Donald Trump is still everywhere: On the news, in her head, somehow right here in her bedroom. But in season 3 of this glorious series — a transcendent screwball horror farce, which pretends to be a legal procedural in a manner that recalls the villain from Texas Chainsaw Massacre borrowing another person’s face — there are bigger problems than the Leader of the Free World.
Allies are becoming enemies. The incoming class of associates looks suspiciously Caucasian. Someone’s handing out secret salary information. Someone else is handing out fentanyl lollipops. The glass walls of Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart are shattering — literally, shattering! The dead live again: A secretary comes forward with a disturbing allegation about a deceased Civil Right icon’s decade-plus sexual assault habit. And then a stenographer comes forward with another allegation, and then why even use a word like “allegation” anymore? The rain won’t stop, all day, every day. “Is this global warming?” asks Marissa (Sarah Steele). “I think it’s just Chicago,” answers Jay (Nyambi Nyambi).
Ah, but The Good Fight‘s Chicago is a fantasy battlescape, nexus central for politics and entertainment. In this Chicago, Roy Cohn’s spiritual heir walks out of an office and Fake Taylor Swift walks in. Down the street, an all-female resistance movement plots a digital coup from a subterranean headquarters that looks like a Medieval throne room. Across town, an insane attorney named Roland Blum (Michael Sheen) lives like the least subtle Roman Emperors, crushing his enemies in the courtroom by lying the truth into oblivion. Sheen’s a new addition this season, and he is giving one of the single most most performances since Al Pacino discovered the phrase Hoo-ah!. Blum breathes drugs through his gills, mainsplains American history in ravenous soliloquies, announces his entrance by bellowing “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree!”
He could be a cartoon character. But The Good Fight has moved its own stylistic goalposts far beyond its progenitor series, pushing The Good Wife‘s snappy-smart dramatics toward the visceral and the surreal. When Blum starts singing “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, he’s just fitting in with the crowd. Everyone’s got a tune in their heart now. Lucca (Cush Jumbo) lulls her ten-month-old to sleep with a rendition Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” Liz sings “I’ll Fly Away,” and perhaps one definition for TV perfection is letting Audra McDonald sing for no plot reason except because she can. I’ve seen the first four episodes of the season, and every one has a breakaway animated musical number. These “Good Fight shorts” all have witty lyrics by Jonathan Coulton explaining concepts like NDAs and troll farms.
Coulton wrote last season’s Schoolhouse Rock-aping number “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That ditty earned the series its only Emmy nomination last year. A travesty, but understandable. CBS All Access is one more streaming service no one can keep track of. I’ve spent the last year proclaiming The Good Fight‘s abject greatness, and the net result in pure viewership numbers is that my mom finally started watching.
But so, a new proclamation: The Good Fight returns as the best show on TV. Co-creators Michelle and Robert King aren’t just chasing topicality. They’re telling deep stories about rich characters struggling to make sense of this incoherent moment. Every action has inadvertent, apocalyptic consequences. Lucca takes her baby for a stroll and sings a few bars of “Baby Shark” within earshot of a loudmouthed white lady, and somehow that incident begins an uncivil war among the law firm’s employees. Diane seeks a new output for her liberal rage — and winds up conjuring an uncontrollable political movement.
In the Kings’ expanding vision, certain individuals receive even more of a spotlight this season. Local Republican Julius (Michael Boatman) has political aspirations. Liz withstands a couple tabloids’ worth of personal revelations, leading McDonald to heights of raw emotion. Rose Leslie’s Maia felt like the odd woman out last season, and with meta good humor, The Good Fight seems to comment on her stick-in-the-mudness, granting her a makeover gone way wrong. Meanwhile, Jumbo finds thrilling new notes of daffy exasperation, juggling single-mom maternal instincts with undimmed professional ambition.
The subject matter must sound, to the outsider, like a polemic of political chatter and absurdist satire. (Various Trumps continue to be barely-offscreen presences.) It is, unequivocally, a fancy drama about fancy people. One key subplot begins when someone overhears gossip at “A Historical Law Society wine tasting.” These new episodes call for active engagement, and will confuse your allegiances.
But the Kings have also infused The Good Fight with a bubbling comic spirit. Everyone is a little ridiculous — Diane’s taken up axe-throwing! — but no one is a clown. I love Delroy Lindo’s savvy realism, the way he makes Adrian a kind of idealist for moderation and a patriarch embarrassed about his own patriarchy. I love how two chic floors of law firm hallways have become a fast-talking Thunderdome for American ideas.
The writers meticulously capture the new feeling that every person stands for something whether they want to or not. Two friendly colleagues like Jay and Marissa might suddenly discover that they are, themselves, infuriating symbols of wage disparity. (Everyone on The Good Fight, white or black, starts to worry that they might be racist.) And I love how the talented cast gets the material for high drama, low comedy, and everything in between. Diane’s husband Kurt (Gary Cole) tells her some bad news — and Diane slams her head against the wall, again and again and again. Baranski sells that scene in every direction. It’s funny, like Sideshow-Bob-stepping-on-rakes funny, and despondently cathartic, because she’s just doing what we’re all feeling.
There’s an eerie rising tide in this season. Noble protagonists look to villains for helpful strategy. They create counter-opposition fake news, and betray trusted allies for The Greater Good. But what else can you do when monsters and monstrousness rule the day? “We’re starting over,” Liz promises Adrian. And for all the loopy humor and twisted rage, the Kings take that optimism seriously, too. The rain keeps falling, the kind of storm you worry will become the proverbial Tempest. The characters on this show are not waving, they’re drowning. Next season, I predict, they’ll be breathing underwater. I’ve seen stranger miracles; I’ve seen The Good Fight. A