It’s official! CBS All Access’ “The Good Fight” — the spinoff of CBS’s vaunted “The Good Wife” — has fully come into its own for Season 4, with its sometimes jarring medley of tones and moods and speculative forms resisting straightforward classification. It’s actually one its key strengths — yes, the series has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality about it, and it goes all in on what’s happening presently, maybe like no other drama currently on air — but it feels like the most vibrant, innovative response that TV has offered to the pandemonium unleashed on public life by President Donald J. Trump and his administration. Formulaic legal drama, “The Good Fight” definitely is not.
At the end of the third season, the so-called #Resistance went bonkers, as Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) tried to make sense of whether you can resist a crazy administration without going crazy yourself, while Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Reddick-Lawrence (Audra McDonald) struggled with a new post-factual world where the lawyer who tells the best story triumphs over the lawyer with the best facts. Meanwhile, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) attempted to balance a new baby with a new love, and Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) found a new Mephistopheles in the always effervescent Roland Blum (Michael Sheen), a lawyer who is corruption incarnate.
Season 4 finds the African American law firm at the center of the series — Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart — navigating a very different landscape. After losing their biggest client, and their founding partner’s name tarnished, they are forced to accept an offer by a huge multinational law firm, STR Laurie (snarkily referred to as STD Laurie by employees), to become a small subsidiary. While STR initially seem like benevolent overlords, the Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart staff find themselves chafing at their loss of independence.
When it debuted its first season, “The Good Fight’s” frenzied tonal shifts seemed like a weakness, an indication that the show was not entirely cooked at the time, and was wrestling with an identity crisis. Now in its fourth season, which debuts April 9 on CBS All Access, the show’s seemingly breezy leaps between the silly and the stern ring true to the experience of what it’s like to be alive in 2020.
The process of watching “The Good Fight” isn’t really about following every storyline. It’s about keeping up as it sweeps through several different emotional registers, only to then reverse and do it all over again. That structure is exactly what makes the show feel so reflective of the world right now. Chaotic. The news is becoming increasingly catastrophic, and any attempt to keep up with it all feels like witnessing folly heaped upon tragedy, and every essential story of the day is almost instantly usurped by a new and sometimes even more explosive one. More than anything else, that sensation is what “The Good Fight” encapsulates well.
Applauding its at times jarring mood shifts as one of its best qualities might seem odd, given that the show has so many other things to recommend about it. Starting with any of its great performances, including star Baranski as Diane Lockhart and Jumbo as Lucca Quinn, to name a couple, and this season, a key newcomer to the cast in John Larroquette as the mysterious, collected, Socrates-quoting chief leader at STR Laurie, who always seems on the verge of an explosive bluster. Although nothing compares to Michael Sheen’s Season 3 guest turn as the entirely batshit lawyer Roland Blum.
Additionally, the series retains its whimsical streak, which is a plus, kicking off Season 4 with an entire first episode that is set in an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton became president, Harvey Weinstein is still a free and powerful movie mogul represented by the firm, and the #MeToo movement doesn’t exist. It’s smart, penetrating TV that only gets increasingly bizarre from there.
Also returning is the series’ unapologetically wonky ways, although gone are the running sequences of explanatory “Schoolhouse Rock”–style animated videos from Season 3, so an encyclopedia might come in handy from time to time.
And just as she did in the first three seasons, Diane Lockhart, who’s ultimately the series’ lead, continues to ricochet from outrage, to trauma, to dreamlike detachment, and back again, while also duking it out with colleagues over interior fractures, meeting with sometimes the most absurd of clients, and releasing her aggression by hurling expletives in a way that audiences have never seen before. It’s refreshing. But this is Diane in true form. That’s how audiences know that she is connected and ready for the “Fight.” And it appears that she might be in for her most challenging and even dangerous case yet. Fans should saddle up, because by the end of the fourth episode, the stakes are raised quite dramatically in a way that suggests the tone is about to shift to something possibly much darker than it’s ever been.
Meanwhile, elsewhere at Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart, Season 4 will tackle race more intently than it’s done in the past, which is something that Baranski confirmed in an interview with IndieWire. When DNC head Frank Landau asks the firm for help with a plan to engage African American voters, the resulting firm-wide debates cover issues that include reparations, the N-word and who gets to use it, and more. Those stories are treated very seriously, although there’s something humorously paradoxical about black employees at an African American law firm, where the few diversity hires are white, having to take racial sensitivity training as mandated by the firm’s new owners.
Given all the non-courtroom shenanigans, it might be easy to forget that “The Good Fight” is first and foremost a legal drama, but it feels like a reinvention of the genre. It continues to rely much less on the mystery that comes with procedurals and courtroom antics, opting instead for a much more informal approach, which begins with its literally explosive opening credits sequence, to its musical interludes, and outright strange diversions. But these are all features that make it stand out, because they are assuredly handled by a veteran team and no longer seem out of place within the series’ milieu.
Ultimately, “The Good Fight” is political capriccio on real life concerns of the now. Its refusal to be boxed in is to its advantage, probably now more than ever. Although trying to be everything at once is never absolutely possible, and there are moments when the show becomes a tad too outrageous for its own good. And because it is bound to the news cycle, it never really offers respite from “Trump Fatigue,” and could exhaust some viewers, who are already being bludgeoned into submission by that very same daily news cycle — even among Trump supporters. However, maybe exhaustion is par for the course in this case — and is kind of the point.
But thanks to mostly bulletproof scripts and an undeniable talent for telling interesting stories by creators Robert and Michelle King, as well as strong performances from the actors at every level, “The Good Fight” makes it easy to get swept up into it all. And it accomplishes this while continuing to subvert the long-standing belief that TV shows with racially diverse casts, and starring roles for older women, can’t draw audiences. Fun times ahead are guaranteed for loyalists, who will be captivated by the season-long investigation into what the seemingly ominous “Memo 618” is.
“The Good Fight” is a spin-off that’s better than the original, and, four seasons in, as it settles into its own rhythm, it only continues to get better.
The first episode of “The Good Fight” Season 4 is available on CBS All Access on April 9, with the second episode available on April 16. After Episode 2, the show will go on a one-week hiatus, returning April 30 with additional episodes.