'The Good Fight' is 'immediately the best legal drama in the TV-verse,' writes EW critic Jeff Jensen

By Jeff Jensen
February 16, 2017 at 12:59 PM EST
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You don’t need to know much about The Good Wife to join and enjoy its spin-off, The Good Fight, but you will need plastic. Produced by Michelle and Robert King (who created the original series) and Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams), the new legal drama is the inaugural offering of CBS All Access. It’s a $5.99-a-month streaming service programmed with back catalog oldies and cable TV adultness that finally answers the question: “What would The Good Wife have been like with f-bombs and naked butts and no Julianna Margulies?” The summary judgment: Pretty good! (You can decide for yourself – for free — on Sunday night, when CBS gives the show a primetime preview at 8 p.m. ET)

With Alicia Florrick out of the picture, Diane Lockhart takes center stage here, played once again by Emmy-winner Christine Baranski in her typically splendid fashion. We find the proud lawyer prepping for retirement — a grand home in Provence — when she loses everything in an investment scam allegedly hatched by friends and clients Henry and Lenore Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle, Bernadette Peters). Muscled out by her fellow sharks at (deep breath) Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannenbaum & Associates, Diane finds new employment — and new moral focus — working as a junior partner at another Chicago firm, mostly black, run by the charismatic, progressive, pragmatic Adrian Boseman (a nimble, energized Delroy Lindo, relishing a juicy part). An area of specialty: representing victims of police brutality — provided that the firm’s litigation financiers, a pair of white guy data crunchers, can calculate big paydays with their complex spreadsheet algorithms.

Lockhart’s struggle could resonate in a society where mid-life or even late-life career reboots and delayed retirements have become common. But she isn’t the only one in The Good Fight suddenly needing or chasing a new start. Diane brings her godchild and the Rindell’s attorney daughter, Maia (Rose Leslie), an eager newbie whose family name goes from asset to albatross overnight, costing her a job at Lockhart, Decker, Blah Blah Blah. Boseman also employs Alicia’s former partner, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo). What broke them up? Mystery. Both characters are their own person, but they also fill the Alicia-shaped space in the Kings’ template: Maia gives Diane someone to mentor; Lucca gives Diane a refining foil, calling her out of denials and self-deceptions and goosing her conscience. “Diane, when did you get so cynical?” she asks early in the premiere, before Diane’s fall. “You should come to this side of the table.”

Patrick Harbron/CBS

There’s something knowing about the line, at least to fans of The Good Wife. The “education of Alicia Florrick” proved to be a seven-season curdle into something similar to her slippery, philandering politico husband, Peter (Chris Noth, also absent), a self-serving nihilist cheating on her best self and best friends. Diane, no stranger to murkiness, ended The Good Wife by slapping Alicia across the face for shattering her (illusory) happiness by exposing the adulteries of her husband (Gary Cole). It doubled as a stinging, somewhat hypocritical punishment for Alicia’s spiritual fail. In a way, The Good Fight picks up the story, but with Diane playing the role of the fallen, humbled hero. The first two episodes suggest a show that explores and interrogates the idea of redemption.

The storytelling in The Good Fight lacks some of the scope and jaunty walk-and-talk drive of The Good Wife, a consequence, perhaps, of a smaller budget. But everything else — writing, acting, vision — is smart and strong, and each episode moves briskly and offers ample entertainment. It’s immediately the best legal drama in the TV-verse, much better than CBS’ would-be Good Wife-replacement, Doubt. What captures your imagination is the resonant premise of women trying to pick themselves — and each other — up again after gutting falls. The premiere opens with a shot of Diane looking demoralized as she watches President Donald Trump’s inauguration; it closes with her bucking up a crestfallen Maia with the line, “It’s not over yet.” I’m with her. You’ll want to be, too. Make the investment: The Good Fight is premium pop for our “She Persists” moment. B+

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