6:30am PT by Michael O'Connell
'The Good Fight' Stages Surreal Return: A Hillary Presidency, "Trump TV" and a Free Weinstein
The Good Fight returned to CBS All Access for its fourth season Thursday, giving viewers what its creators originally had in mind for the series — a legal drama set against a Hillary Clinton presidency.
"The Gang Deals With Alternate Reality" does exactly what it promises, with lead Christine Baranski (resilient lawyer Diane Lockhart) opening the season premiere by witnessing footage of Clinton's 2017 inauguration. The Through the Looking-Glass episode quickly reveals the boons of HRC's victory: a likely cure for cancer and Donald Trump's attempt at a TV network failing among them. But as the fantasy plays out, Baranski's character becomes aware of the complications with her new reality — namely the absence of a #MeToo movement and the fact that her latest client is a still-thriving Harvey Weinstein.
Like other scripted TV series, The Good Fight abruptly ceased filming in March. With seven of 10 planned episodes shot, series' creators and showrunners Michelle and Robert King are now focused on what postproduction they have left (and the Zoom writers room for CBS drama Evil) while they await news on a future return to production. From their home in Santa Barbara, they spoke with THR about the decision to kick off the season in such a specific comedic fashion, their reputation as a "liberal wet dream," how the ignored subpoenas of the Trump impeachment inspired the new season and why they probably won't be writing the novel coronavirus into their finale — whenever they get to make it.
You famously had to rethink The Good Fight's series premiere after Trump's 2016 victory. So this episode is kind of the show you originally planned.
Robert King Michelle and I just had this idea and wanted to run with it. The show has always been thought of as a kind of liberal wet dream by a lot of people — but it's always been looking at it a little satirically. What seemed interesting to us was the idea that liberals, if they got everything they wanted, the zeitgeist would change in a way that wouldn't necessarily be friendly to a lot of good developments. Most people would argue that the #MeToo movement a great development, so the show argues that it wouldn't have happened if Trump had lost after his "grab 'em by the pussy" comment.
Michelle King The writers had so much fun just spitballing, “OK, what are the wonderful things that would have happened with a Hillary presidency — but what are the terrible things?”
Robert The Women's March came as reaction to his win, not his comments. So Diane ends up in a world she thinks is her biggest dream — that three and a half years of Trump were a nightmare that she had overnight. She wakes up to the world where Hillary has been office for three years. That's great until she realizes her new client is Harvey Weinstein. (Laughs.)
And, in this reality, Harvey is more powerful than ever.
Robert Of course [Weinstein] would get the Presidential Medal of Honor! The friendship with the Clintons was very tight. I mean, it's ghastly. CBS was willing to let us run with it. When we get an itch, we get to scratch it. Christine Baranski is one of the great comic actresses working today, and she really leans into it with this episode.
What little we hear of Trump is that his network, Trump TV, is reducing programming to just eight hours a day.
Robert That felt very real.
You also take a crack at the fact that, in a world where Trump is president, the Obamas are busy with an overall deal at Netflix.
Michelle Delroy Lindo and Audra McDonald just staring at Christine when she says that … I think that's my favorite moment of the episode.
All of the comedy distracts from the fact that season three ended on a cliffhanger of Christine and Gary Cole's characters getting swatted.
Robert That, I think, is the power of speed and pacing. Michelle and I kind of get bored by a lot of streaming shows just cause they seem to be slowing down time. There's a real power in the sleight-of-hand hiding of the card by just moving fast.
Diane is ultimately revealed to be dreaming, knocked out in the aftermath of the swatting. Did you ever consider killing off Gary Cole's character?
Michelle It's not so much that we've put Diane through too much, it's that we love Gary Cole, that character and that relationship. So as long as we can manage to get Gary — because he's very busy — we want to try to make it work.
Robert In the writers room, we considered it for about an hour. But the first episode is comic, and to end it with a bitter pill would have been wrong. Also, the writers just love him. Why would we kill some one we love? Although, we did it with Josh Charles [on The Good Wife], but that was another matter.
This season seems to really focus on power — and particularly the abuse of it in the legal system.
Michelle We were struck by the fact that there seem to be two systems of justice at play — one for those with connections to power and the other for folks without. That’s not especially new, but it's gotten more and more obvious. Suddenly subpoenas are like dinner invitations that are optional.
Robert Even though it's a law show, it's not really a courtroom show about how the law often can be corrupted. And it's felt like there's been a direct attack going on with the judicial system, where it seems to have a Fast Pass lane. That seems wrong.
Neither The Good Fight nor the The Good Wife really showed people snubbing subpoenas.
Robert The Office of Legal Counsel has existed for a while. And in regard to the resisting of subpoenas, all you have to do is look at the impeachment hearings. The bottom line is, it seems for the first time that the House [of Representatives] had no power to enforce subpoenas. All people really needed to do was say, "No, I'm a little busy writing my book. You can buy the book when it comes out."
Michelle And when you say that, it still feels like you must be joking.
Robert There's just this odd sense that power means you don't need to obey certain areas of the law. We're observing that deeper pockets can resist decisions, delay and appeal decisions for longer and longer. We want to show an organized way this is working, sort of like a Catch-22 — the actual Catch-22 in the novel Catch-22, which allows power to do what it wants.
This season also picks up after the law firm has been acquired by a larger firm. Any inspiration from the CBSViacom merger in there?
Robert Yeah, that's called biting the hand that feeds you. (Laughs.)
Michelle There are a lot of conglomerate acquisitions going on all over the place right now, not just CBS and Viacom, so it felt timely.
Robert "Synergy" used to feel like a kind word. When Disney had a movie, they could advertise it in their their theme parks and then turn around and make TV shows based on them. Now there's a synergy that just kind of means, "Fuck you. You're laid off." We've been doing a lot of study of other firms and how they define partnership. It's sort of a polite, sweet Human Resources way of saying these smaller businesses are going to get chewed up and spit out in some way.
You've already written the season finale — but, if and when you get to resume production, do you think current circumstances might influence your story?
Robert It's such an unknown, because there are so many many hypotheticals. Everything is changing every day, and I don't think we can really tell where this is all going to end up. We're happy with the episodes we have — even the ones we're in the process of editing now, but we can't tell what's next.
You both seem like you'd be game to work within the current constraints.
Michelle In a sense, we're really fortunate that we are able to do so much of the post remotely, so we haven't had to really be creative to make those things work. We're just making it work.
Robert The difficulty would be with filming. I know All Rise is doing it. I think, with where we're headed in our show this season, it has to have so many visual components. It's difficult to just rely on, you know, people in their homes. I am very intrigued by how All Rise will do it. A more courtroom-focused show might be better to to handle that. But what do you do with wardrobe? What do you do with backgrounds?
How have you navigated being a bosses in a time when so much work has come to a full stop?
Michelle It's not so much approaching it from the point of view of being a boss, as being someone who likes our colleagues — many of whom we've worked with for 11 years now. It's just checking in with people, seeing how they're doing on a personal level. Because there isn't much clarity we can offer at this point. We don't have a date when we're going back to work or anything like that. We shut down The Good Fight on a Thursday and then Your Honor on a Friday.
You have three series in various stages of production.
Michelle Everything feels like such a big mush right now, in terms of being in quarantine and having these various shows.
Robert With Evil, the writers room started almost four months early — because we could and all of the writers were available. The scripts are not as zeitgeist-centric as The Good Fight. That writers room would normally be eight hours. We're finding, with Zoom, it needs to live between three and four hours. The mind melts down after a while. Then it's three to four hours of editing on The Good Fight. And there are some Your Honor obligations that fill in the cracks. It's still a full day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.