“The Good Wife,” which ended last May after seven seasons, has spawned a sequel, “The Good Fight,” carrying over Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo and adding Rose Leslie from “Game of Thrones” to form its central triad. Run as before by “Good Wife” creators Robert King and Michelle King, the pilot will play Sunday on CBS before subsequent episodes become available exclusively via the streaming service CBS All Access.
If you are a fan of the original and wondering whether the $5.99 a month ($9.99 without commercials) is worth the money and time, you should know that "The Good Fight” preserves its predecessors’ tone, intelligence, quirkiness and Nancy Drew sense of adventure, while leaving behind some old, beaten baggage. If you are on the fence, it may help to know you also get all the “Star Trek” series, including the next one, and the cartoon. And you can test-drive it free for a month.
Like “The Good Wife,” which began with Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick going back to work after her husband is packed off to jail, “The Good Fight” starts with a scandal that sends Baranski’s Diane Lockhart, now a partner in a much-merged corporate litigation firm, back to zero – losing all her money in the Madoff-like meltdown of an investment firm and trading an imminent retirement to a life of luxury for a desperate job search.
What’s more, newly minted lawyer Maia Rindell (Leslie) is the daughter of the man charged with the crime, and also Diane’s goddaughter, and as the screenwriting would have it, her first case with the firm is Diane’s last — and her own last as well.
It also happens, conveniently, that opposing them is Lucca Quinn (Jumbo), who joined “The Good Wife” in its last season and was for a time a member of Diane’s firm before striking off with Alicia. One thing happens, and then another, and by the end of the first hour they are all working together at a spunky African American law firm, whose main partners are played by Erica Tazel (“Justified”) and a giddier than usual Delroy Lindo (Diane can be their “diversity” hire,” Lindo’s character, Adrian Boseman, jokes.)
It’s exciting just to have Baranski, 64, at the head of a series. “You’re no spring chicken,” Diane is told during her job hunt, and this thinking, of course, is not foreign to the casting of network television shows. There are exceptions to this ageism, to be sure, but the ones I can think of offhand are all male, and also on CBS.
And that’s another quality of the new show. In “The Good Wife,” Alicia was a classic figure of melodrama, the woman done wrong, her world defined by men — a cheating husband and an old crush — and although she eventually gained female friends, that dynamic followed her all the way through the series. In “The Good Fight,” which finds Diane separated from her husband (Gary Cole), the main characters are women; it’s their evolving relationships that dominate the story.
As their title suggests, where “The Good Wife” made Alicia’s journey its focus until the end, “The Good Fight” is setting out as an ensemble piece. (Margulies is not in the drama). Here, among others, are former recurring players Michael Boatman, a partner at Diane’s new home, and Sarah Steele as Marissa Gold, daughter of Alan Cumming’s campaign manager character Eli Gold, who is now Diane’s new assistant.
And where “Wife” concentrated on powerful clients in big-stakes cases, “Fight” seems to want to back the underdog.
“Diane,” says Adrian, while they are still opponents, “when did you get so cynical? You should be on this side of the table.”
There is perhaps some self-reflection in that: Cynicism was the final note of “The Good Wife” – the end of Alicia’s journey was that she “became” her win-at-any-cost husband. Though never without its immediate delights, that series had grown tired and forced by the end, throughout its many reorganizations and realignments, hirings and firings, alliances and estrangements (as well as its public backstage dramas). Right now “The Good Fight” feels fresh, a familiar favorite room swept clean of dust and debris.
Of all the dramas on broadcast television, “The Good Wife” always felt the most grown-up to me, and now that its spinoff lives behind a premium wall – like HBO or Showtime – the franchise can let its hair down a little. That means F-bombs – when the first one falls, a third of the way through the pilot, from the mouth of a character from whom we have never heard such language, it’s a half-delightful shock. Still, one feels decorum will reign – this is not a dark reboot.
As did “The Good Wife,” the show has the quality of being both realistic – a case in the second episode turns on a controversial real-world (renamed) interrogation method — and romantic (Maia, for instance, who has just passed her bar exam, is given responsibilities with improbable speed). But that’s really how this franchise works best, at its best, balancing episodic legal brain-teasers and long-arc personal business, it’s full-bodied entertainment: brainy, gutsy, a little love crazy.
‘The Good Fight’
Where: CBS All Access
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd