To really appreciate just how insane a show “The Good Fight” has become, it’s worth going back to revisit its big-sister series, “The Good Wife.” The CBS legal drama, which ran for seven seasons beginning in 2009, was notable for being the last broadcast drama to be nominated for Emmys; its status as a CBS series meant that it never had the buzz of “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” during its time. But the courtroom shenanigans that revolved around Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) as she returned to the workplace and, year after year, grew more deeply drawn into the nexus of Chicago politics and legal technicalities
While “Good Wife” was extremely serialized for its time and network, creators Robert and Michelle King were still making 22 episodes a season and leaning on the procedural element more often than not. (One of its small pleasures was the recurring cast of judges observing each case, which included some stunning guest stars including David Paymer, Dominic Chianese, Ana Gasteyer, Joanna Gleason, and Bebe Neuwirth.) “Good Fight,” meanwhile… it’s on another planet.
In many ways, “The Good Fight” looks a lot like “The Good Wife” — the many returning cast members, the same high-gloss look at the legal world. But the Kings, increasingly unrestrained from their broadcast roots, have taken the opportunity to, much like in their opening credits sequence, explode what a show like this can be like.
In Season 3, the actual cases take a somewhat deliberate backseat in favor of legal wheelings and dealings in back rooms; the concept of the case of the week is pretty much a long-ago memory. It remains centered around the lawyers working at a Chicago law firm — though a notable choice was letting Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) make a new start at a film historically staffed by black lawyers, which dramatically increased the show’s opportunity for stories about race, a thread that continues throughout the first four episodes of the season.
But really, while stacked with an impressive supporting cast (including Delroy Lindo, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Sarah Steele, Nyambi Nyambi, and Audra McDonald), it’s really become Baranski’s show, even more than Margulies ruled over “Good Wife.”
This is because Diane Lockhart continues to, after three seasons, be the voice of the show’s writers as they stare down the maw of current events. Perhaps because the initial plan for “Good Fight” was initially tied up in the Kings’ expectation that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election, the show has moved over the seasons from shock in Season 1 to frustration in Season 2 to an almost amused sort of rage in Season 3. More than once on “The Good Wife,” Diane actively campaigned within the system to become a judge; now, she’s an active freedom fighter rejecting the mainstream status quo — and it’s a joy to see how much Baranski is loving it.
The only real danger to Baranski’s dominance over the series is new guest star Michael Sheen, who continues to demonstrate his massive range in developing characters — here, he’s an insane force of chaos who brings rich moments of humor and terror.
Beyond the extreme shifts in the show’s protagonist, this season also continues breaking down its format, going so far as to take a bold new approach to the sort of complicated exposition that these complicated times require. Each episode so far contains a breakout “The Good Fight Short” (created by Head Gear Animation) that functions like last season’s popular favorite “Animated Guide to Impeachment.”
Whether doing an animated short every episode instead of just once in a while could prove to be tiring by the end of the season remains to be seen, but the season is also full of interesting twists, including musical numbers and other touches of surreality. It’s a show with a genuine sense of innovation in play, a quiet revolt hiding behind the mask of a legal drama.
“The Good Fight” was CBS All Access’ flagship series when IndieWire reviewed its first season, which made it difficult to recommend to viewers, since it would require them to take a chance on a brand new streaming platform. However, in the two years since, All Access has added a significant number of exciting other series, including “Star Trek: Discovery” and the crime comedy “No Activity” — and it’s on the verge of launching what could be its most important series to date, the Jordan Peele–executive produced revival of “The Twilight Zone.” “The Good Fight” is worth discovering for yourself on its own merits, and it’s a lot easier to recommend it now. Sometimes, there’s something to be said for quality and quantity.
“The Good Fight” Season 3 streams new episodes Thursdays on CBS All Access.