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Three things I think about The Good Fight, which begins its third season on CBS All Access this week:
1) The Good Fight is, with the possible exception of the season five arc with Alicia and Cary leaving Lockhart/Gardner, better than its CBS predecessor The Good Wife ever was. Period. Full stop.
Air date: Mar 14, 2019
2) If The Good Fight aired on CBS, it would be the best hourlong series on broadcast TV. The decision to air The Good Fight on CBS All Access has probably cost the show major Emmy nominations, especially for Christine Baranski, who has gone from decorated Good Wife supporting player to Good Fight lead without skipping a beat. I obviously can’t speak to the size of the audience that the series attracts on CBS All Access nor the number of subscribers it has brought to the service nor the halo of general acclaim and respectability that it has garnered the service, but looking at CBS’ drama slate and at the general state of dramas on broadcast TV, there’s little doubt that the landscape is diminished by not having this show available to a wider audience. That being said…
3) The Good Fight should, to me, very clearly be placed in the comedy field for awards purposes. From the “Let’s show lots of things exploding!” opening credits to the heightened-yet-jaunty walking music that accompanies every scene to an operatic tone that has only become more outsized as the show has evolved, Good Fight exists in a world of such heightened reality that it verges on science fiction at times. Since I have a hard time calling Good Fight “science fiction,” though, comedy it is! Also, I laugh harder at Good Fight than nearly any so-called “comedy” on TV.
I don’t know why you’d necessarily want to, but you could probably just jump right in on the third season of Good Fight. The first season was about transitioning Baranski’s Diane Lockhart (and Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn, Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold and, a new addition to the universe, Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell) over to a historically African-American law firm fronted by Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman (plus several characters who were basically written out of the show). The second season focused primarily on Diane’s downward spiral with Trump Derangement Syndrome (and hallucinogenic micro-dosing).
Through four episodes sent to critics, the third season is about reexamining the landscape at Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart. The firm finds itself reevaluating an identity once built on the civil rights bona fides of the late Carl Reddick (Louis Gossett Jr.) as Reddick’s name becomes embroiled in #MeToo accusations and the firm’s very face begins to change with an influx of white associates who may have been hired and paid on a different set of standards.
Maybe that doesn’t sound all that sexy, but it’s the backdrop. In the foreground you have Lucca trying to balance new motherhood and a potentially lucrative promotion, Marissa offering unexpected assistance to Michael Boatman’s Julius, Maia forced to work with an eccentric acolyte of Roy Cohn and Diane delving deeper and deeper into the underbelly of the anti-Trump resistance.
Depending on your perspective, the show’s embrace of Diane’s Trump obsession — accelerated wildly and yet still an organic growth from a pilot that found her shattered by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat — was either the best or worst thing to happen to the show. It isn’t just that Good Fight has probably made itself unwatchable for viewers on the right side of the political spectrum. It’s more that the sheer quantity of Trump-related material in the second season became rather exhausting, probably with intent.
It was also crazed and hilarious — the news reports on various activities within the Trump administration are a key exhibit in my “It’s a comedy!” argument — and only enhanced the show’s finger-on-the-pulse currency. Episodes of the second season felt like they were arriving on-air fresh from the editor and complete with the latest tawdry news about adult actress payoffs, Steele Dossier speculation and Russian election meddling.
If anything, the lunacy has only been enhanced this season as creators Robert and Michelle King have expanded their mania to include Eric Trump and Donald Junior, even more Stormy Daniels-adjacent speculation and harrowing details about troll farms. The exaggerated news stories have continued to be a piece of the show, though they’re taking a comedic backseat to the weekly Schoolhouse Rock-style parody songs from Jonathan Coulton, picking up momentum from the show’s only Emmy nomination last year. The songs, accompanied by animation, explain concepts like NDAs and, for more youthful Good Fight fans, Roy Cohn.
Speaking of Cohn, Michael Sheen’s performance as Maia’s unlikely new legal partner may be the best reason to check in this season. Sheen makes his first appearance in the second episode, and his Roland Blum is performed like a director was standing off in the wings shouting, “Like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, only bigger. BIGGER!” With crazy eyes, a bushy beard and a waffling Bronx accent, Sheen’s giving a performance of utterly manic grandeur, one of the most outsized and theatrical I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s a mad, mad, mad performance, and there’s hardly a purpose in awards existing if there’s no room to recognize Sheen’s berserk commitment. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to have to act in his immediate proximity, but the amazing thing about Good Fight is that it’s a show with enough flexibility for exaggeration that Sheen doesn’t seem completely out of place.
Leslie, perhaps tapping into her experiences acting opposite a whole sea of crazy-eyed beardos on HBO’s Game of Thrones, raises her game significantly to hold her own opposite Sheen. The rest of the ensemble remains consistently top-notch, with Jumbo, Steele and Audra McDonald (who gets to sing in one episode) among the standouts, along with the unimpeachable Baranski.
I’m not without reservations on The Good Fight. Freedom from CBS procedural structure has mostly been an asset for the show, yet it has a tendency toward unformed chaos in episodes that don’t include a major court case. In fact, the characters spend very little time in court at all this season, adding to the claustrophobia caused by a near-total lack of exterior scenes, even second-unit establishing shots. In keeping with apparent prestige TV regulations, this Good Fight season is very, very dark, with the brewing and escalating storm outside the office windows contributing both formal and thematic purpose. Still, there are moments where the show is just great actors in poorly lit rooms shouting over each other.
Even those less-than-optimal moments go by quickly and are sprinkled with cleverness and the creators’ burgeoning indignation, making them more entertaining and just plain better than anything happening on any hourlong series on CBS. The Good Fight has, in very short order, become a terrific show in its own right and it shouldn’t be in the shadow of its platform or the well-regarded show it spun off from.
Cast: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Sarah Steele, Michael Boatman, Nyambi Nyambi, Audra McDonald, Michael Sheen
Creators: Robert King & Michelle King & Phil Alden Robinson
Showrunners: Robert King & Michelle King
Premieres: Thursday (CBS All Access)
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