In the US: Sundays, CBS All Access
Spin-offs are a tricky business. You want to try to attract as many people to watch them as possible. Yet if you make the spin-off too different, maybe the fans of the original show won’t like it and won’t watch; meanwhile, those who didn’t watch the original won’t watch because they know it’s a spin-off. But if you make the spin-off too similar, the fans might get bored of seeing more of the same, while everyone else won’t watch for exactly the same reasons they didn’t watch the original.
The Good Wife was an ultimately much raved about drama in which Julianna Margulies returned to work as a lawyer after her cheating husband got locked up. I quite enjoyed it but I ended up watching only a few episodes, since it wasn’t so good I wanted to stick it out beyond episode three, so I never really got to learn why everyone ended up loving it so much in later episodes.
Now we have The Good Fight, a spin-off from The Good Wife that’s also the first show put out exclusively on CBS’s new online-only Hulu rival, CBS All Access. And it all seems a bit familiar, even to me.
For starters, it sees Christine Baranski reprise her role as one of Margulies’ mentors at her law firm, from which she’s just about to retire. However, before you can say “well, how are they going to have a legal show if she’s retired?”, her accountant (CSI‘s Paul Guilfoyle) is revealed to have possibly been the architect of a Ponzi Scheme and all her money is now either missing or tied up in the investigation. Retirement? Not for you.
Trouble is, her old firm wants her gone and her association with Guilfoyle means none of her clients want to go with her if she leaves. Fortunately, there’s another law firm for which Delroy Lindo and Good Wife regular Cush Jumbo work that might be interested in hiring her, so she can do good works, instead of defending the indefensible. Will she join the good guys and fight The Good Fight?
Coming with her is Rose Leslie (the red-headed wildling from Game of Thrones), Guilfoyle’s newly graduated lawyer daughter and former golden girl, who’s now as toxic as Baranski, so it’s basically The Good Wife again, in which an older female lawyer partnered by a younger (gay) woman rediscovers her worth and ambitions through a new job. There are what felt like a lot of references to that show and a certain degree of foreknowledge required of the viewers, such as the opening scene of Baranski watching the Trump inauguration silently devastated which is never referred to again, but I’m assuming is a reference to her political sensibilities. But it wasn’t so debilitating that I couldn’t understand or enjoy what was going on.
To be honest, while it’s not hugely different from any number of other legal dramas, The Good Fight is at least well written, has a good cast and is occasionally funny. Possessed of no fewer than three Brits in its line-up pretending to be American (Lindo, Leslie and Jumbo), it’s happy to mock that fact for the audience’s pleasure by getting Delroy to ask Jumbo to answer phones in a London accent. Lockhart’s loss of her retirement plans is a source of pathos, as is the fact the show also frequently has much poorer people who suffered from the Ponzi scheme explaining they’ve worked for 20 years and got nothing to show for it, too. TMZ investigations of Leslie and her girlfriend also enable Jumbo to offer friendship in a time of need by offering advice from Margulies’ experiences, and Lockhart’s relationship with her possibly soon to be ex-husband (Gary Cole) is actually quite touching.
But The Good Fight is nothing that new as a legal drama, even less so for anyone who’s watched The Good Wife. Maybe that’s why it’s on CBS All Access – it would probably get cancelled quickly on broadcast TV but being quite cheap to make and on the Internet, it could find a niche quite easily.
I’ll probably give episode two a watch at least to see if takes the show in a different direction. Nevertheless, I suspect that just as with The Good Wife, I’ll be out after three, even though there’s nothing that wrong with it.