TV: The Good Fight (Seasons 1-3)

As a fan of CBS’ long-running legal drama The Good Wife, I was excited to that the saga would continue in The Good Fight, which I finally caught up with during a recent marathon over the past couple of weeks. While I don’t exactly recommend that approach to watching this one—more on that later—I enjoyed it immensely. Possibly the most nakedly political TV show ever made, it’s an absorbing, utterly addictive return to Michelle and Robert King’s richly developed Chicago law scene.

Its principal character is Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), who had the honor of executing the controversial final act in The Good Wife. As the series opens, Diane is on the verge of a hard-earned retirement when her fortune vanishes in a puff of smoke. Her financial advisor, Henry Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle), was running a Ponzi scheme that bilked billions of dollars from his investors, including Diane, who has already resigned from her law firm. The Rindell scandal is so toxic it taints Diane, whose only modest job offer in the wake of the fiasco comes from Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) at a majority-black firm. Boseman’s firm, where former Lockhart-Gardner associate Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) now works, is an up-and-coming business making a strong reputation for championing the little guy and prosecuting police corruption. Their mission appeals to the idealistic Diane, an unabashed progressive whose politics are often entangled with the thorny ethics of her legal work—not to mention her marriage with soft-spoken, conservative ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole).

The Rindell scandal also has severe consequences for Diane’s goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie), a newly minted attorney whose career immediately hits the skids when her father’s reputation drags her into the muck. Maia’s wealthy privilege falls away and she quickly becomes a pariah, whose lesbian sexuality makes her a target of misogynistic online abuse. With Diane’s help, Maia also lands at Diane’s new firm, where she finds her professional footing while also gradually coming to grips with her toxic family.

At first, The Good Fight essentially appears to be continuation of The Good Wife, moving the milieu to a new, far more diverse firm, but using the same storytelling playbook that’s rife with see-saw court battles, contentious law firm politics, and complex interpersonal relationships. The streaming platform affords for more realistic language and occasional nudity, but the vibe is basically the same. Instead of Alicia Florrick’s cagey, sometimes cynical ethical gymnastics, the focus shifts to Diane’s internal battle between left-wing ideals and legal pragmatism. Meanwhile, numerous recurring characters from the previous show turn up to maintain world-building continuity—most notably, Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele). Steele stole scenes mercilessly as Eli’s chippy, funny, ambitious daughter on The Good Wife, and here she receives a welcome boost in screen time, becoming Diane’s right-hand woman, then fast friends with Lucca and Maia, and eventually a rival firm investigator with newcomer Jay DiPersia (Nyambi Nyambi), with whom she develops a nice rapport. Even as it carries on these traditions, though, The Good Fight presents something of a clean slate, jettisoning some of The Good Wife’s trickier baggage and moving on to compelling new stories.

In season two, however, The Good Fight ramps up its political agenda, transforming the show into TV’s most incisive, angry, and brutally on-the-nose reaction to post-2016 America. Not that the specter of Trump doesn’t loom over the series from the outset; indeed, the series begins with Diane’s gape-jawed observation of the presidential election results. But it isn’t until the meaty second year, with each episode title counting the number of days of Trump’s presidency, that the show truly throws out any pretense of not confronting the repulsive elephant in America’s living room. This season, during which Diane self-medicates her way through chronic depression and disbelief over the state of American politics—which constantly pokes its nose into her law firm efforts—is my favorite, even as it’s sometimes the most difficult to watch. To me, it’s the one that most accurately reflects the downward-spiraling mental health of the empathetic progressive in Trump’s America. The Good Fight understands the ramifications of sociopathic Republicanism on the national psychology, and for those of us on the left watching what’s happening in incredulity, it’s comforting to see a show tackle that psyche head-on, even if that means re-living the depressive lows.

Season three refuses to let off the gas, though, and elevates the series to a heretofore unseen level of face-punching satire. Punctuated by Schoolhouse Rock-style cartoon segments that baldly explicate its political points, season three loses all shame, reflecting the impossible ridiculousness of its headline-grabbing subject matter. Characters break the fourth wall in monologue to the camera. Diane has a conversation with the Trump-shaped bruise on her husband’s back in the middle of the night. Lucca almost represents Melania in a divorce case. And there is an utterly bonkers new character, Roland Blum (Michael Sheen), who chews the scenery relentlessly as he flouts every rule of decorum—a caricatured Roy Cohn analog who illustrates just how far the national discourse has fallen. Had Blum appeared on The Good Wife, he might have obliterated suspension of disbelief. But here, it’s all too easy to believe in Blum, whose tactics eventually lure Maia to the dark side of the Force, and indeed seem tempting to our heroes as they wrestle with how to combat an unscrupulous enemy that no longer plays by any rules whatsoever. “The guardrails are gone, Diane,” Adrian tells her late in the season three closer. “And I can’t see the road.”  This is the succinct, uncomfortable theme of season three, and while the watch is as compelling as ever, it’s also a tough pill.

For all its strengths, The Good Fight is decidedly imperfect, even for those of us politically disposed to its stance. Left-wing viewers should definitely not binge this show without an appropriate diet of antidepressants; as occasionally inspiring as our heroes’ “good fight” may be, the show doesn’t shy away from how intractable and insidious the problems we currently face are. Total immersion may be triggering for the sensible. (Right-wing viewers, of course, probably will not make it through the first episode.) There are narrative false-starts and dropped threads, like Lucca’s snarky Justice Department rival-romance with Colin Morello (Justin Bartha), a relationship that never quite works. After building a beautiful created-family vibe between Lucca, Marissa, and Maia, the show then pushes Maia to the margins, an unfortunate fate for an interesting character that gets something of a thankless arc. By the end of season three, the noble mission of Diane and Boseman initially embarked upon has become hopelessly compromised by the bleak circumstances of their conflict. That “clean slate” from season one is once again cluttered with ethical baggage and unsettling narrative turbulence.

But there is also so much to admire about The Good Fight: the steely performances of its cast, especially Baranski, Lindo, Jumbo, Steele, and Leslie; the usual King brand of memorable, idiosyncratic supporting characters; the resourceful way it reinvents itself on the fly; and perhaps most importantly, the fearlessness with which it confronts the disturbing reality of post-truth politics that have been weaponized against an entire nation. It remains to be seen whether The Good Fight’s characters will rise to the lofty goals of their mission, but that only seems right, considering the show is basically an unnerving funhouse-mirror reflection of a battle that has not ended. Hopefully it will stick around to continue the struggle, because the world definitely needs art and entertainment on its side.

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