Watching the opening moments of The Good Fight, it feels so comfortable, slipping back into the world of The Good Wife. The new spinoff premiering Sunday, from Wife creators Robert and Michelle King, reimmerses us in the Chicago law firm shark tank. Julianna Margulies’s Alicia is gone, of course, but Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart is front and center, as is Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn, who became a Wife fan favorite in the latter seasons of the series.
The premise of the show is that Diane, eager to retire and enjoy the wealth that accrues to a big-time attorney, learns that her funds have been wiped out in a Bernie Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme. (CSI’s Paul Guilfoyle is here as a convincing Madoff-like stand-in.) She needs work and a salary, fast. But since she signed her exit papers with her old firm, she’s forced to seek a job elsewhere, and finds it in a firm headed up by Delroy Lindo and Justified’s Erica Tazel.
Lucca already works there. See, the Kings are setting up a classic fish-out-of-water scenario: Diane, in case you never noticed, is white, and this is a primarily black-led and -staffed firm, so she’s rather noticeable and self-conscious. It doesn’t help in her transition period that she brings along her goddaughter, a pale-Irish-looking skinny thing named Maia, played by Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey). Maia is a recently minted lawyer who joins the firm as an associate.
This is jolly good fun, to see the once-imperious and serenely confident Diane set back on her heels, for the first time being the needy one instead of the needed one. It’s also pleasurable to re-experience the fast-paced, crammed-with-details storytelling of the Kings, who, as they did in The Good Wife, burn through plot points lesser shows extend and drag out for whole seasons.
It’s also exhilarating to see a character of Diane’s retirement age as a TV show’s central character: The ageism that Diane encounters when she goes looking for a new job is merely a fictionalized version of the real, Hollywood ageism that actors — especially women — face after the age of, oh, probably 40, or even younger. To be sure, Maia is there to service, as they say in TV, a younger demo, but between Diane-as-protagonist and the black law firm taking center stage, Robert and Michelle King are doing more for diversity than most of CBS’s entire primetime schedule.
The first two episodes explore interesting cases, and because the show is airing on a streaming service, CBS All Access, Diane and company can utter strong language they never could on The Good Wife. Not to be too immature about it, but there is a certain thrill to hearing Diane Lockhart utter a pungent F word at an appropriate moment of anger. (To entice you, CBS will air the first episode on its regular broadcast network right after 60 Minutes on Sunday, scrubbed clean of four-letter words.)
The Good Fight has been assembled in such a way that you don’t need to have seen so much as one episode of The Good Wife to follow what’s going on. The new chapter in Diane’s life is also a new chapter in the genre of first-rate lawyer shows.
The Good Fight pilot airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS. The first two episodes stream on CBS All Access on Sunday, with a new episode each Sunday thereafter.