Pilot: “The Good Fight”

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Another year, another spinoff. However, unlike with most others, even if I do end up watching them or trying to, this one is one I was genuinely excited about. From the absolute beginning. When I heard it was being developed and then shot, I couldn’t help but be intrigued and thrilled. When I heard who was returning I knew this was well worth setting high hopes for. Now that it’s arrived, where does it stand amongst all the other spin-offs that have come and gone or are still on the air?

The new CBS Television Studios series “The Good Fight” is proving quite quickly that this is a spin-off not only worth watching, but worth existing at all. It might now even be the best spin-off on TV. At this point though, I find it necessary to mention how biased I am. I watched the entire series run of “The Good Wife”, also created by Robert King and Michelle King, and know full well what they’re capable of creating. I also watched their most recent series “BrainDead”, where I was treated to a completely different show on numerous levels, but could still see where it was a product of their collective creative minds. However, with that being said, I don’t feel that what I’ll talk about below is simply or purely a product of my bias. It’s just a portrait of how good the episode was.

All That Is Old Is New Again

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Like with most TV spinoffs, this one is comprised of familiar things. The world, for instance, is a familiar one, but it’s not. With the King’s, alongside fellow creator Phil Alden Robinson, deciding to start this series off one year after the events of its predecessor, there’s a lot more room to play. Not a lot of TV shows can manage to use time jumps properly, but based just on this episode, I’d say these creators may come out ahead. It’s one reason why, even though I didn’t need it, I’m absolutely hooked on this series. I primarily was reminded of what I’ve been missing since May of 2016 and why I was over the moon about this series coming to TV, even if it was on a fledgling digital platform.

Along with the world, there are some familiar characters returning. Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo, if you didn’t know already, reprise their roles from “The Good Wife”, but they aren’t the same as when fans left them. That’s another one of the beautiful upsides of a time jump. You can have very familiar characters return to tell new stories, but also, because of various reasons, be drastically different. So much has occurred, that while there’s bits of the old to still love, you may very well be surprised by what’s new. I’m already getting hints of that and that’s pretty much because of the episodes primary storyline. Baranski gets caught up in a huge financial scam and can’t retire. Now the rest of the story is about seeing how she deals with this. Jumbo, is a bit more of a mystery. She’s still a lawyer, but at a new firm. Why? Something’s clearly happened in the last year and while she’s still as amazing and kick ass as before, she’s taken on a new demeanor. Drama may be manufactured a bit, but at the same time, it comes quite naturally to these two characters and the creators as a whole.

Rose Leslie’s just one of the many new faces joining the cast of this legal drama, and I’m confident it’ll be worth it. I’ve seen very little of her work, but as it’s the Kings (here comes that bias) I’m certain they and their fellow writers, will deliver a complex character. One that’s worthy of going up against all the others that will populate this series, new and old. The one problem, I’m now discovering, as I write this, is that I can’t figure out how to describe her. Yes, she too gets embroiled in this financial scandal, as it is her father who’s arrested, but that’s not enough. That more just explains that there are dramatic events, but you knew that already. I think, like with Erica Tazel and Delroy Lindo’s characters, she’s going to take some time to develop. There’s a lot here to help shape Leslie’s Maia from newly bar certified lawyer and first year associate into someone who can stand for herself and deserves to be admired, maybe even somewhat feared. I believe that’s something we can probably get from this character. She did have a few moments that were fun to watch, but I’m certain she can achieve more.

I did mention Tazel and Lindo, so I guess I’ll back to them. They mostly stand out and excel because of the courtroom drama that arises from the case that’s being argued. While there are also conversations and heated discussions outside of the legal meetings, it only provides so much information. Really, when you think about it, it’s to propel the larger plot we already know about. Baranski and Leslie will ultimately be hired at Tazel and Lindo’s firm. If they handle all their cases with this kind of fire and passion, plus whatever glimpses into their own personal lives, they too will be characters well worth following. I, for one, am definitely excited about them being in the cast as I’ve seen very little of their work, I’m sure. I can’t even think of anything I may have seen them in at all. Oh dear.

While all of the above are great reasons to watch and see if this series is for you, here’s something else that should help go a long way in convincing you to give it a shot. It’s only 10 episodes long. Not a lot to commit to. Okay, no that wasn’t the actual reason, but it is a good one. I’d say this one is related to the fact that this series is a spin-off. You really don’t need to have seen “The Good Wife” to watch and like this show. Would it help? Of course! But if you don’t have the time or for some reason don’t want to, that’s fine. This episode established that this series can, and hopefully does, stand on its own. Even with the one reference to Alicia Florrick, the King’s and Robinson made sure to establish how it will strive to be its own series. I find too, that too many spin-offs are really reliant on their predecessors and never truly establish a name for themselves. In fact, because of some of the most recent spin-offs, I find that the inclusion of original characters is annoying and lazy. Which now kind of makes this series, and my love of it, seem strange.

Hooked On The Intrigue

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Like with any good pilot episode, there will be a certain amount of dedication to keeping you interested. Of late, I’ve been thinking of this as what hooks me. Was there a hook? Sometimes that comes at the absolute end of the episode, and sometimes I just know it when I see it. The episode was crafted that well and I know I want to make time for it each week, even if it ends up just being a one season series, which is something I don’t think will be the case for this new series.

The primary bit of intrigue for me is what’s up with Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn and Baranski’s Diane Lockhart. When they share their first scene together, it’s quite icy and cold. I’m pretty certain Elsa would need a parka. There are a lot of ideas on what came between them, but I can’t seem to settle on which is the best. Each seems believable. Was Jumbo just collateral damage in the fallout we didn’t see? Was she too loyal to Alicia and couldn’t figure out her own feelings regarding Baranski? Or, which is definitely a possibility, was she just getting too bold and brash and causing problems at the firm? Or, which I just remembered, when Baranski’s firm merged with another and somehow Jumbo was pushed out? I guess it could be any and all of these things, but I’m not fully certain it was solely related to Alicia. Perhaps I’m just hoping it’s not. Again, this show doesn’t need to rely on references to the previous show, because that would largely go against what the Kings seem to believe in. They don’t treat the audience like idiots.

Another and far bigger hook is the financial scam. Was it Leslie’s father’s doing? Who in the family knew it? What other kinds of fallout will there be. This episode quickly showcased the drama that comes from the realization that millions of dollars were lost from a lot of people. It did bring about some great dramatic and emotionally satisfying scenes, but it was still hard to watch. Seeing Baranski so broken and unsure of her future, probably because of the connection from before, was just hard. I guess in some ways this being a spin-off doesn’t help.

Which, for me, brings about the next hook. Hope. The ending dealt with hope. Everything’s upside down and uncertain, but Baranski and Leslie see some hope for them. Will it be enough? Probably not as that’s not how the Kings tell stories. But, which they offered up at least once, they do try and weave in comedy. In one line, amidst so much drama, the Kings and Robinson had me laughing out loud. Lindo says to Baranski, “You’ll be our diversity hire.” A great and funny role reversal. In the previous shows the Kings created, comedy was a must. Was it needed at every moment? No. It was used sparingly, but it definitely helped balance the heavier plots and issues in any given episode. Now, maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up about this. Perhaps they’ll scale back the comedy. But since other quirky characters from the original series are slated to return, I doubt this’ll be the case. Speaking of quirky! I’m certain there will be plenty of silly moments from various quirky characters. And that’s all just for starters. One way the Kings, Robinson and the other writers are going to make this show stand on its own will be approaching storytelling completely different. Sure familiar flourishes will happen and be great, but after a while, too much of the same thing could very well be a hindrance.

Guest Star Services

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One of the most exciting things about this series, which was on full display in this episode alone, are the guest stars! Never before “The Good Wife”, had I seen a series have so many guest stars pretty much eclipse the stars of the show itself. That show did it. I mean, how else do you get David Hyde Pierce to return to television after a decade off the air? The Kings must’ve been doing something right. In this episode, not only were viewers treated to returning characters, like David Lee and Howard Lyman, played by Zach Grenier and Jerry Adler, respectively, but Leslie is one of the luckiest actresses on TV. Her parents are played by Bernadette Peters and Paul Guilfoyle. What an incredible way to begin! Now, I know it’s early to get excited about guest stars, because for all anyone in the general public knows, there may not be that many standout guest stars. It is only the first season. But, as the Kings have built a pretty good reputation, it could very well happen throughout the entire first season.

One thing I can say for certain regarding guest stars, which has me even more excited and optimistic about the overall direction and tone this series will take, is Carrie Preston. She too, as shown during the “This season” preview, is reprising her “Good Wife” role, which is absolutely okay! She’s one of the quirkiest characters and is definitely hinting that this won’t be changing. Sure there may be less characters that are quirky and strange, but at least there will be some. That’s another one of the best things about the previous series. So many guest stars got to play really quirky and out there characters, or ones only slightly quirky and out there. Regardless, there was seldom a dull moment, and these characters also allowed for comedy and running gags to come through all the drama. If I haven’t said it yet, the Kings and their band of writers, who may or may not be back for this series, knew how to balance so much. It’s not an easy task, and most sadly fail at this, but the Kings seldom did. Hopefully that’s the case here, as that alone is a good reason to give this series a shot and hope for the best. There’s a lot to look forward to and I can’t wait to spend the next several weeks back in this fun world!

Originally debuted: Feb. 19, 2017 on CBS and airs exclusively on CBS All Access

Creators: Phil Alden Robinson, Robert King and Michelle King

Starring: Christine Baranski, Rose Leslie, Erica Tazel, Cush Jumbo and Delroy Lindo

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