“The Good Fight” doesn’t reflect reality so much as has one foot just beyond it on either side. Since its debut in 2017, it’s taken slices of headline fodder and put them in a TV context, reconfiguring and prodding at them under the guise of a fascinating legal drama. A few of the faces from the opening season cast photos have gone. The White House intrigue that generated the current underneath so much of its early seasons has since faded somewhat, but not entirely.
Despite those changes (and in the midst of tumult inside the world of the show and the one of the people watching it), “The Good Fight” comes back for Season 5 on Paramount+ with a renewed sense of purpose, as focused as it’s ever been.
It’s not surprising that a show with a response rate to Current Events as quick as “The Good Fight” would have the best approach to how to address the significant timeline markers of the last year-plus. Given that an unforeseen stop in production kept the show from properly finishing its Season 4 (anyone who hasn’t yet experienced the show’s deliciously bonkers unintentional finale from last year is truly missing out), Season 5 fills in those gaps with a characteristically sharp overview (written by series co-creators Michelle and Robert King) of where everyone ended up.
Some of these developments are quick — Cush Jumbo, filming her scenes in London, gives Lucca Quinn as satisfying a leave as anyone could expect under the circumstances — and others continue some of the long-simmering evolutions that were happening during a different era of Unprecedented Times. Faced with the potential exit of Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo), Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald) once again have both a changing personal dynamic and a new set of organizational choices to consider. And the pandemic certainly isn’t overlooked, with one member of “The Good Fight” family dealing with the disease even when they’re beyond the walls of a hospital room.
There continues to be a savvy approach on “The Good Fight” to those name partners. Some of the most compelling threads in past seasons have come from Adrian or Diane or Liz struggling with the times when they’ve been less-than-shining representatives of the firm they’re so directly tied to. While the people driving the erstwhile Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart were usually sympathetic, “The Good Fight” has always wisely stopped short of painting the people in charge as righteous crusaders. This show has a view of the legal world where — perhaps justifiably — the line between justice and a cash grab is just as easy to cross by accident as it is to do by choice.
“The Good Fight” hasn’t shied away from showing a certain generational divide as the show’s main firm has changed. Now that the past few seasons have taken Liz and Diane’s respective idealist instincts and shown all the ways that the world has managed to curdle them, “The Good Fight” is even more well-rounded by the two remaining name partners confront the messiness of their own authority. Particularly as Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) pursues alternate options inside and outside of a new role in the firm, the show has eased up some of the “cool boss” moments that made some of these professional and personal relationships so endearing at the start. It does change the overall tone at times, but there are plenty of workplace oddities and unforeseen changes that keep the show in touch with its past strengths.
In a continued mirroring of the American political arena, Trump is still hovering, though not nearly in the same way as he was prior. Shrewdly, “The Good Fight” takes on the lingering effects of the former administration mostly through the eyes of its moderate supporters: Diane’s husband Kurt (Gary Cole) is dealing with a changeover at his Veterans Affairs post. Julius Cain (Michael Boatman) is back into the fold as part of the firm’s pandemic regroup. And a new potential client, a thinly-veiled analogue for a prominent name in right-wing donor circles, represents a major test for whether the firm can reconcile its principles with its need to stay solvent.
There’s always been something in the show’s sense of theatricality that underlines how absurd and arbitrary justice can be meted out. Over time, “The Good Fight” has leaned into that spirit by calling on top-tier Broadway talent to fill out its ensemble (and, in the case of McDonald, a key part of the above-the-title core). That continues this season, as a number of judges and prosecutors make their return, playing the show’s courtroom patter like a finely tuned instrument. In this refreshed Season 5, there’s the show’s usual rejection of self-seriousness in these jury proceedings. If anything, “The Good Fight” is funnier in these opening episodes that it’s ever been.
Much of that comes from the temperature change offered by the arrival of Mandy Patinkin as a recurring guest star. As a judge presiding over an unsanctioned, literal backroom court, he’s the perfect synthesis of everything the show has been reaching for in its season-long newcomers and preoccupations. Judge Wackner has the moment-to-moment unpredictability of Roland Blum, the agent of chaos played by Michael Sheen in the show’s third season. Wackner’s radical notions about the nature of the law and who it should serve is a kind of counterpoint to last season’s shadowy “Memo 618” mystery. And, when things could easily be at their most chaotic, Patinkin brings the much-needed effortless calm that John Larroquette offered over last season’s too-brief run.
Another welcome addition to the cast is Charmaine Bingwa, joining as first-year associate Carmen Moyo. Fresh out of law school, Carmen provides a view from a different part of the firm’s hierarchy that the show hasn’t really had since it debuted. She quickly ends up in the attorney deep end, and Bingwa brings a different kind of resolute energy that the show doesn’t get from any of its other performances. It’ll be interesting to see where that determination (and Carmen’s status with clients and employers) stands by season’s end.
For those concerned that any departures and rearranging mean that the show has lost its freewheeling spirit, fear not. Absurdity has been a cornerstone of “The Good Fight,” calibrated to reflect the overall national tenor. After setting the table in that season premiere, the second episode has all the hallmarks of the wild “Good Fight” imagination and self-deprecation that it’s long had in its foundation. Those renewed strengths are delivered with an even greater sense of confidence, in writing and performance and presentation. By the time Season 5 hits the end of its fourth episode, following all its disparate storylines as they thread through the firm’s office corridors, it’s hard not to feel like this is a show right at home in the one part of the world it can still control.
“The Good Fight” Season 5 premieres new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+.
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