[Warning: This article contains spoilers about the first two episodes of The Good Fight. Read at your own risk!]
Creating a spin-off of The Good Wife as part of the rollout of scripted original programming for CBS' streaming service, All Access, made a sort of sense. While The Good Wife was never a ratings powerhouse, and its reputation took a knock in its final couple of seasons, the show remained a brand that still appealed to a certain well-to-do demographic, one that might have the income necessary to subscribe to yet another streaming platform. Indeed, all of that probably helped even more when Star Trek: Discovery — All Access' intended flagship program — got caught in the temporal distortion known as "pre-production troubles."
Spin-offs for the sake of business interests, however, may not always yield the best results, and after the plot synopsis for The Good Fight was released — Diane (Christine Baranski) loses all her money in a Ponzi scheme just as she's about to retire — even some of the most die-hard Good Wife fans I know, myself included, raised a quizzical eyebrow about what this continuation of the franchise had to offer.
And then Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.
The show's cast and producers have already discussed how the election shook up the show a bit, as they all were anticipating a Hillary Clinton win. Clinton's presumed victory is as good a reason as any for Diane to declare that there are no more glass ceilings to break and that she can retire to France in comfort, knowing that her particular brand of feminism has peaked with a woman winning the White House. Trump's victory turns Diane's retirement victory into a liberal firebrand fleeing a situation she believes she can't possibly tolerate but is now stuck in because of a system she thought she could trust.
Suddenly, The Good Fight is charged with a sense of relevancy and a reason for existing beyond brand extension and helping to launch a streaming platform in a crowded marketplace. The premiere episodes, "Inauguration" and "First Week," tread heavily in this inadvertently-supplied purpose. The collapse of the Rindell Fund, and its reverberations to causes that are near to Diane's heart (i.e. Emily's List and the Chicago Women's Fund), call to mind the panic the election created for organizations like those. Diane's flat-footedness in light of the Rindell Fund's shuttering leaves her scrambling for a new job to stay afloat, and somewhere that can renew her sense of purpose after she was ready to make a fresh start in France.
That new place is the African-American firm of Reddick, Boseman, Kolstad & Assoc., headed up by Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel). (Reddick remains to be seen; perhaps he'll be this firm's Jonas Stern?) We're introduced to them as they're suing Cook County over a police brutality case, the type of case in which Diane would typically be on the firm's side — as Lucca (Cush Jumbo) helpfully points out — but is instead serving as the "necessary side" in defending Cook County, a sort of pragmatism that Diane wasn't always prone to. But since she's poison to other firms and because she, as Adrian points out, never "invited black folk" to the Rindell Fund, she's someone that won't hurt this firm's image or their clients. (And she can help them against them against any other Cook County cases represented by Deckler Gussman Lee Lyman Gilbert Lurie Kagan Tannenbaum & Assoc.)
Diane's arrival at Reddick/Boseman/Kolstad and her renewed sense of purpose and drive also summons up the conversations around activism after Trump's election. While Diane was taking the aforementioned necessary side, R/B/K was defending others from a rigged system (and getting wealthy doing it, as Diane mentions). While Adrian is happy to have Diane aboard for a number of reasons, Barbara's wary of Diane resenting that she's not a named partner in her new firm, and perhaps not being much of a team player as a result. It's difficult not to draw parallels to similar concerns that cropped up as a large numbers of (white) people who stayed home for Black Lives Matter protests earlier in 2016 decided to become politically active only after Trump's election, and worries that these new arrivals would shift the conversations away from those sorts of issues.
While all of this is focused on Diane since she is, after all, the headliner of the spin-off and the pre-existing character with the most history (at least for long-time Good Wife viewers), Good Fight offers up Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) as not only an audience surrogate for any new viewers but also a younger potential counterpoint to Diane's perspective on the newsy topics creators Robert and Michelle King are plucking from the headlines for this series. Maia, like Diane, has her world turned upside down by the Rindell Fund scandal, and her parents — Henry (Paul Guilfoyle) and Lenore (Bernadette Peters) — aren't the most reliable sources of information about who's responsible for what, especially after the reveal at the end of Episode 2 that Lenore's carrying on an affair with Henry's brother (Tom McGowan).
But Maia is also young and impressionable, fresh off passing the bar. Her moral barometer isn't completely honed yet — she's the one who prompts Diane to discuss "necessary sides" — and she's now in an environment where Diane's mentorship can be countered by Lucca, Adrian, and Barbara's respective takes on the law. All four of these figures may guide Maia in different ways, and the law firm itself may play a part as well. Which are the good fights, and what are the best ways to fight them? Activism? The law, when it's financially beneficial according to an algorithm?
The second episode, "First Week," illustrates all this by devoting a surprising amount of time to a case of the week regarding retail loss prevention, garnished wages, and interrogation techniques applied to retail workers. It's a little surprising, because The Good Fight only has 10 episodes for its first season, and the Kings routinely grumped about having to pad seasons of The Good Wife, so devoting a lot of narrative real estate to a case of the week in the second episode seems like an odd choice. But since the case is woven into all aspects of the episode and is centered around Maia learning the ropes — Leslie's particularly good during Maia's nervous, first-ever actual cross-examination (thank goodness it was in front of Judge Abernathy!) — it becomes a good way for us to learn and understand Maia as she comes to grips with what her family has possibly (probably) done, and how she's going to define herself against their actions.
Really, The Good Fight hasn't drifted too far from the DNA of The Good Wife; it's just sort of split the Alicia (Julianna Margulies) genome. Maia has the fresh-faced-ness of Season 1 Alicia, and Diane has the cynicism and back in the middle(ish) after being at the top attitude of Seasons 6 and 7 Alicia (though, hopefully, with more self-awareness). More than that, while The Good Wife was founded in a political moment of wives standing behind philandering husbands, and borrowed from current events on a weekly basis, The Good Fight has more than a premise in modern politics: It has a purpose, a reason to exist, and perspectives with which to explore this political moment beyond a central character's psychology. The Good Fight can have things to say, and since it's on a streaming service and not a broadcast network, it may be able to say them more loudly and with more verve than it might otherwise have been able to. Let's hope it's here for the battle.
Subsequent episodes of The Good Fight will be available Sunday mornings ET on CBS All Access.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)