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The Good Fight Is Already a Finely Tuned Machine

The Good Fight demonstrates more confidence and poise than many spin-offs do by their third episode

Noel Kirkpatrick

Spin-offs, no matter from whence they came, often need a little while to find their legs. They have to decide if they're going to carve out a whole new identity or hew fairly close to their mothership's tone and style. How different are the spun off characters going to be? Where does this new show find them, and do these changes make sense? It's a decidedly difficult balancing act, and it's one that The Good Fight is pulling off remarkably well, as the series' third episode, "The Schtup List" demonstrates.

Freed from the baggage of establishing its premise -- it was smart of CBS to make the first two episodes available immediately from a pacing perspective -- The Good Fight is able to start revealing what its sensibilities are, and it turns out that it's pretty much the gear The Good Wife operated in when it was humming along in its early going.

I'd assumed the show was going to be more deeply serialized, but it turns out Michelle and Robert King want to keep doing cases of the week, and like last week's case with garnished retail wages and false confessions, The Good Fight put us once again on the side of an apparently good cause that may have some shades of gray to it. Here, it's the matter of a doctor (Zachary Knighton) providing assistance to medical personnel in Syria via Skype.

It had all the earmarks of a twisty Good Wife-esque case: technology (consulting on a major surgery while walking with a laptop in a public area!); current events (Syrians!); the federal government represented by a charismatic lawyer -- in this case, series regular Justin Bartha as Colin Morrello -- who is also vaguely shady, clever law strategies; and a ticking clock.

Really, the case had just about everything, including an answer to the question I had the entire time: Why did the feds even really care? This nagged at me a lot, because it didn't really make too much sense to really make an example of this one doctor, especially when he had no way of knowing on whom he was "operating." So I was deeply satisfied by the final twist that the U.S. military was using the legal system to delay the surgery long enough to draw a terrorist out of hiding so they could bomb him. (Well, I was narratively satisfied; it was horrible as an action from the state.)

Delroy Lindo, The Good Fight

Delroy Lindo, The Good Fight

Patrick Harbron/CBS

So the case of the week operated in normal Good Wife fashion, and so did law firm politics. Worried about the lack of payment from a client, Adrian (Delroy Lindo) and Barbara (Erica Tazel) discovered that they were getting dropped for another minority-owned firm headed by a black man who ran a Trump super PAC. Here, the show takes advantage again of the current political climate to reflect shifts in business operations across the board.

Mostly, the law firm plot was played for solid laughs as Adrian and Barbara enlisted the one person in the entire firm that voted for Trump to salvage the contract: Good Wife refugee Julius Cain (Michael Boatman). Long-time Good Wife viewers will appreciate the pleasure of watching Julius just become increasingly exasperated but also be pretty darn surprised that Julius would vote for Trump in the first place (I'd have sooner guessed David Lee [Zach Grenier] than Julius).

However, it also set up potential splinters within Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad beyond the tensions between Adrian and Barbara. It almost seems too early to start trotting this out (perhaps too) beloved plot, but given the different dynamics that the firm has compared to the firms of Good Wife, I'm willing to grant them some leeway.

​Bernadette Peters and Rose Leslie, The Good Fight

Bernadette Peters and Rose Leslie, The Good Fight

Patrick Harbron/CBS

If there's one part of the show that feels just a little off balance so far, it's Maia's (Rose Leslie) plot with her parents, and the question of who did what with the Ponzi scheme. I'll acknowledge that some of this stems from the fact that we don't know Maia all that well, so when I have aspects of the show anchored completely by new characters, I'm still trying to get my footing.

In a lot of ways, the back and forth between Maia and her family mirrors the back and forth between Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Peter (Chris Noth) in the early goings of Good Wife. We don't know what to believe, and neither does Maia, so bits of evidence and subterfuge -- Maia stealing the titular list off Jax's (Tom McGowan) computer while Marissa (Sarah Steele) distracted him on the phone was pretty great -- and people laying out their views on the situation give us pieces, but I'm not sure I necessarily care how they fit together. I barely cared whether or not Peter had done drugs with prostitutes or not; what mattered was the damage it did to Alicia's life.

For Maia, the damage almost seems limited to realizing her parents aren't the best people in the world, and that they're playing her against one another in some vague game. It's still early, though, so there's more time for the series to make its main serialized plot matter, but it's probably going to need Lucca (Cush Jumbo) or Diane (Christine Baranski) to be a bit more involved for it really get going for me.

But in the grand scheme of everything else the show is doing right, and very well, too, having to calibrate the one section of the show that is cut from the newest cloth makes sense. Everything else is taken from The Good Wife and reconfigured a bit. It'd be more of a worry if the other elements -- cases and law firm politics -- didn't work as well as the Rindell plot. This is a good problem to have, and one that's fixable given how well everything else is going so far.

The Good Fight streams new episodes on CBS All Access on Sundays.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)