One of the earliest and most noticeable differences between The Good Fight and The Good Wife—other than the fact that everyone can say “fuck” now—is the spinoff series’ title sequence. The Good Wife kept things clean and simple with a mere title card. The Good Fight has a lengthy opening credits sequence scored by Good Wife series composer David Buckley. At first, it features everyday workplace artifacts: bookends, a laptop, a chair, a table, pumps, a purse. But when it gets to the image of a gavel, the sequence hits a turning point. All the items explode, one by one. Watching the familiar explode is a fitting metaphor for the new series: Though it has a lot in common with the flagship series, The Good Fight ultimately blows up The Good Wife’s narrative.
Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), once at the pinnacle of her career, falls to the bottom over the course of “Inauguration.” Her retirement, her dream house in Provence, her legacy—it all disappears in the blink of an eye. Because just as The Good Wife did, The Good Fight opens with scandal. Diane’s friend Henry Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle) is arrested for running his invite-only investment fund as a Ponzi scheme, and Diane—along with Chicago’s liberal elite—loses all her savings. David Lee (Zach Grenier) isn’t keen on letting her waltz back into power after announcing her retirement, and suddenly all the friendly offers Diane got at her retirement party dry up. No one wants to work with her when she’s so tied up with the Rindells (Bernadette Peters fabulously plays Henry’s wife Lenore). Diane Lockhart loses everything—even her friends.
But the scandal is hardly just Diane’s burden to bear. The Good Fight opens up the universe of The Good Wife, and the narrative isn’t centered so precisely on one character. Though it was truly an ensemble show at its peak, The Good Wife ultimately was Alicia’s story. Baranski may be getting top billing on The Good Fight, but she shares the spotlight with Cush Jumbo, returning as Lucca Quinn, and Rose Leslie, who plays brand new lawyer Maia Rindell, Diane’s goddaughter and the daughter of the new most-hated family in Chicago.
In fact, it’s Maia whose arc in the pilot most closely resembles that of Alicia Florrick. Her life is upended by the scandal, and she finds herself scrutinized by the press. Her girlfriend Amy (Heléne Yorke) gets swept up in the madness, too, when a tabloid runs a fake leaked sex tape of the two. Ostracized from their worlds, Maia and Diane join Lucca at her new firm, a mostly Black firm run by Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel), who make for excellent character additions to the ensemble show.
The Good Wife ended a less than a year ago, and the events of The Good Fight take place a year after Diane smacked Alicia across the face in an act of circular justice. Not enough time has passed for the new series to feel nostalgic. Rather, its references to the past are more urgent and propelling than nostalgia. The Good Fight reaches into the past without getting stuck in it. Will Gardner quietly haunts the episode, never mentioned, but appearing in a photo at Diane’s retirement and then again when she’s packing up her office. There are inside jokes, too, like the absurdly lengthy Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert, Lurie, Kagan, Tannenbaum & Associates moniker, which winks at the constant shifts in the office’s name throughout The Good Wife. There are a few explicit mentions of Alicia, but Lucca refers to her old friend and colleague more ambiguously, offering Maia advice on how to overcome—or rather, drown out—all the attention she’s getting.
But the best reference to The Good Wife comes from Diane cautioning Maia against trusting her intuition too much: “People I thought with all my heart were guilty turned out to be innocent, and people I thought were saints, they um, they weren’t,” she says. To anyone unfamiliar with The Good Wife, it’s still a great line. But its context makes it all the more delicious, especially thanks to Baranski’s delivery. “Saint Alicia” was Alicia Florrick’s playful nickname—coined by the press after her husband’s scandal—over the course of The Good Wife.
The Good Fight harnesses all the little details that made The Good Wife great. It’s a character-driven drama that doesn’t let all the legal stuff swallow it up. Like The Good Wife, it makes simple phone calls exciting, aided by the bouncing compositions of David Buckley. But I’m almost more interested in the ways The Good Fight is different. The show dropped a bomb on Diane so that it could start over. The writers are keenly aware of their characters’ histories, but they’re moving them forward, too. The Good Fight doesn’t live in its predecessor’s shadow. It stands on its own. The Good Fight pulls what it needs to from The Good Wife and creates its own magic.
And Lucca Quinn is finally standing on her own, too. While Jumbo was a welcome force in The Good Wife’s final season, Lucca never really clicked as a character. She existed only in terms of Alicia, acting as a device in Alicia’s arc. The Good Fight’s first episode does more to develop and define the character than an entire season of The Good Wife ever accomplished. And Jumbo’s performance is brilliant. She’s deliberate and magnetic, and her unconventional pacing hints at her stage experience.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the exploding things from the title sequence act as more than just a metaphor for the series; they’re also an excellent metaphor for the reign of Trump, a subtle but perceptible influence on the world of The Good Fight. The episode opens on Diane, looking in horror and disbelief at her television as the 45th president of the United States is sworn into office. The title sequence takes the familiar and blows it up, and I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for the Trump administration’s attacks on literal truth. The Good Fight is hardly the first scripted series to place its characters in the context of Trump’s America (Black-ish did it masterfully and with razor-sharp conviction), but right away, The Good Fight is current, urgent, steeped in real-life politics that make it a little more than just a compelling character-driven drama. And it isn’t self-important or trite about it in the way that shows keen on unraveling of-the-moment politics and social climates (The Newsroom, House Of Cards) often are. For those still questioning whether a CBS All Access pass is worth the monthly fee, The Good Fight’s premiere makes for a convincing argument with its invigorating sense of urgency. The fight is just beginning, and it’s already so good.
- So, if you didn’t notice, I’m a hardcore The Good Wife fan, and my reviews of The Good Fight are going to bring a lot of the knowledge and emotions that come with that to the table. I promise not to talk about The Good Wife too much every week. In the future, I’ll probably dedicate a section here in the strays to highlight the less obvious Good Wife callbacks and references.
- I‘m excited about all of the new characters, but right now, I’m most excited about Barbara. I’ve loved Tazel since Justified, and I can’t wait to see what she brings to the show. She and Delroy Lindo already have a fun dynamic.
- Also: lesbians!!!!!!!!!!! I haven’t forgiven the Kings for their treatment of Kalinda Sharma, but I’m thrilled that one of the main players on this show is a queer woman with a girlfriend. I always wished The Good Wife would be gayer, and I hope The Good Fight is here to answer my prayers.
- Who else gasped the first time someone uttered Alicia’s name?
- I like that the events of The Good Wife’s finale do have direct ramifications in this premiere…Diane’s relationship with Kurt was fractured when Alicia betrayed Diane by outing his affair in court, and we see the effects of that fissure here.
- Cutting to the title sequence after Diane says “fuck” seems like another wink at the audience. Look, y’all! We can swear now! For those of you who watched the pilot on CBS (this is the only episode that will air on television) rather than online, how does that moment play? Did they just bleep her? The Good Wife always got creative with that kind of stuff.